What SPF should I use? A guide to using sunscreens

As the days become longer and the sun’s rays get stronger, the UV index climbs. But why is it so important to use sunscreen, and what does the labeling mean when confronted with so many options at the local drugstore? 

When used as directed, sunscreen is proven to decrease your risk of skin cancers and skin precancers, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The foundation says 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and having five or more sunburns doubles a person’s risk for melanoma. 

But regularly applying sunscreen reduces the risk of developing melanoma by 50%, the foundation says. 

Regular use of sunscreen, the foundation says, also helps prevent premature skin aging caused by the sun, including wrinkles, sagging and age spots. 

Northeastern experts Roger Giese, a professor of chemistry and biomedical science, and Jenny Van Amburgh, a clinical professor, discuss the science behind sunscreens. Their comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

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