We all know sun exposure can cause skin cancer, which is why sunscreen is important for protecting our children and ourselves. However, if you think all sunscreen is equal or wonder whether last year’s tube is still effective, Park Nicollet dermatologist Larisa Speetzen, MD, has some advice.

Be choosy

First, check the label for broad-spectrum protection. Make sure the sun protection factor (SPF) is 30 or greater, and the formula is water resistant. This will protect against harmful ultraviolet rays, which causes you to burn.

Consider using a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide if you have very sensitive skin or when you are using sunscreen on your children.

Spray sunscreens are becoming more common, but there are some concerns about the safety effects of inhaling the sunscreen. Also, it's difficult to tell how much is actually applied to the skin. If using a spray sunscreen, make sure you rub the spray into the skin to ensure an even coating.

Cover up

Don't like using sunscreen? Wear sun-protective clothing instead. Local company Coolibar makes lightweight, breathable clothes that protect you from the sun. Another option is Sun Guard, a laundry aid that adds sun protection to regular clothes in the wash.

For babies younger than six months old, avoid using sunscreen. Instead, use clothing, hats, sunglasses and shade to protect your baby's delicate skin.

Check the expiration date

If you still have tubes of sunscreen from seasons past, you might be okay. The FDA requires sunscreen to retain its original strength for three years. If a sunscreen has a funny smell or texture, throw it out.

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