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Rubbing On Sunscreen Could Hinder Its Effectiveness

Slathering on sunscreen before heading out on a hot summer day has become a ritual for most people in the time of damaging UV rays and skin cancer.

But a new study out of the UK suggests it’s not whether you put it on, but how you put it on.

Rubbing the cream into the skin until it disappeared was not considered effective in warding off cancer-causing radiation – instead tests suggested letting an even white film of the slippery stuff dry on the epidermis was better.

The study’s lead researcher admitted most people prefer to rub the cream into skin, saying that it feels more comfortable to do so. But as the lotion disappears, so does the protection – or at least that’s what the trials would suggest.

The team behind the study used left-over skin from plastic surgery operations and recreated the effects of intense sun exposure. When sunscreen was rubbed in, it offered next to no protection from UVA rays, which are associated with cancer and premature aging.

On the plus side the sunscreen still provided protection against UVB rays, but even that was a mixed blessing because UVB rays are the ones that cause skin to redden and alert people to the fact that they’re being burned. Without that ‘red’ flag, people might be encouraged to remain in the sun longer.

Experts behind the study concluded that sunscreen shouldn’t be the only way people protect themselves from sun exposure.

Getting the most from your sunscreen (courtesy Toronto Public Health):

  • Choose a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher that gives protection from both UVA & UVB rays.
  • Read and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the bottle or tube. Check for expiry date on the product.
  • Apply sunscreen 20 – 30 minutes before going outside. This is important. It allows time for the active ingredients in the sunscreen to reach the protection level.
  • Apply sunscreen generously to dry clean skin. Sunscreen must be applied generously and thoroughly to dry clean skin to be effective. Don’t forget your ears, nose and the back of your neck. Use an SPF 15 sunscreen lip balm for lips.
  • Reapply every 2 – 3 hours and after perspiring. Sunscreen (including waterproof varieties) should be re-applied every 2 – 3 hours and after skin becomes wet to maintain maximum effectiveness.
  • Use a sunscreen even on cloudy, hazy or foggy days.
  • Always test for allergic reaction when first using a sunscreen. Apply a small amount on your inner forearm for 2 – 3 days consecutively. Check for adverse reaction. Talk with your pharmacist about alternative choices.
  • Application of insect repellent may reduce the effectiveness of sunscreen. When sunscreen and insect repellent are used together, cover up and wear a hat to ensure better protection from the sun. Use insect repellent as directed by the manufacturer.

Here are other ways to protect yourself from sun damage:

  • Limit your time in the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its most intense.
  • Cover exposed skin with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses
  • Wear sunscreen with at least SPF15 at all times when you plan to be outside. Make sure it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Apply generously and often.
  • People with fair skin – who burn easily or have moles or freckles – should be extremely careful in the sun. So should anyone with a history of skin cancer in their family.

Foods that reportedly help boost your skin’s immunity to the sun:


When cooked, they’ve been shown to reduce the skin cell damage caused by UV rays. They are considered anti-oxidants and are also anti-inflammatory because they contain EPA and lycopene. Other naturally hued red foods also have these qualities, including watermelon.


The berry family also offers protection through the antioxidant anthocyanidins, made popular through red wine studies. Of particular benefit, is bilberry. It maintains skin integrity, preventing its breakdown, and therefore is critical for firm, youthful looking skin. It also protects the skin cells through its antioxidant activity.

They’re also high in vitamin C.

Omega 3 Foods/Fish Oil

Science has confirmed that a lack of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids sets the stage for increased wrinkles and lowered photoprotection. It also has proven that EPA, found in omega-3 rich foods, is extremely important in protection against damage from the UV rays of the sun.

A 2001 study showed that vegetables, legumes, olive oil, and fish are protective against wrinkles, while butter, meat, daily were found to contribute to them due to the oxidative stress they cause.


Vitamin A and beta-carotene, working synergistically, reduce sun-induced skin damage in otherwise healthy adults. Best sources of vitamin A include: sweet potatoes, squash, kale, mangos, red peppers and dandelion.


A high source of vitamin C, which is known for its collagen building effect and antioxidant protection. Other foods rich in vitamin C include citrus fruits, melons, kiwis, green peppers, and kale.