Sunscreen: What a Lifeguard Knows

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Perhaps no one spends more time in the direct sun than a lifeguard. So who better to give advice on protecting skin from sunburn? This is must-read advice whether you swim or not! While growing up in Faribault, Minnesota, Megan Trout, pictured second from right, spent summers as a lifeguard.

by Megan Trout, Viewpoints Guest Contributor

Have you ever been burned so badly you’ve questioned your life choices? I have. I was sunbathing with some friends near a river wearing SPF 8. After an afternoon in the sun, the backs of my knees were burned so badly I could barely bend my knees without screaming! Sitting, standing, walking, even laying down hurt so much I cried. I was 15 years old, and I had learned my lesson! As a lifeguard, sun protection is now an essential part of my well-being. While I used to be able to accommodate the healing of a sunburn, with a next day 8-hour guard shift, I now cannot.

Over the 7 summers I have lifeguarded at an outdoor community pool – here are the top lessons I have learned to ensure such burning episodes never occur again!

Sunscreen expires

Sunscreens have a shelf life of 3 years. Never use expired or old sunscreen. If you are going to wear sunscreen (which you should!) make sure it is effective – check the expiration date or write the year you bought the sunscreen on the bottle to ensure your skin is properly protected.

Sunscreen does not fully block out the sun

The FDA recently banned the use of the title “sunblock” as no sunscreen fully blocks UVA/UVB rays from the sun. This explains why lifeguards still achieve that healthy tanned glow while wearing sunscreen. If your skin is extra sensitive, wear a t-shirt over your sunscreened skin to better protect against sun exposure.

1 ounce every 2 hours

Sunscreen should be applied 20-30 minutes before contact with water or sweat. About 1 ounce (shot glass) is needed to coat your entire body and it should be reapplied every 2 hours. Grab a friend, or that cute guy at the beach, to help lotion up your back. Nothing looks sillier than hand prints on your back and arms due to hard to reach missed or poorly lotioned spots!

Ears, feet, hands and lips need sunscreen loving too

Each of these sensitive areas is prone to painful sunburning! Be sure to rub sunscreen onto the tops and bottoms of your feet and hands (especially when lying out in the sun). Always use a chapstick with SPF (even in winter) to protect against chapped and sunburned lips. Never forget to get your ears; the tips are extra sensitive to sun and can burn easily. And always remember the backs of your knees!

Water resistant, not waterproof

Sunscreen is not waterproof. The Food and Drug Adminstration now requires sunscreens to state “water resistant” and the duration of exposure to water/intense sweat the sunscreen may have until losing its strength (generally 40 or 80 minutes). Remember to always reapply after each refreshing dip!

50 is the max and 15 is the min

SPFs higher than an SPF 50 have not been proven to be more effective. Assuming that 1 application of an SPF 70 sunscreen is adequate for a day at the beach is dangerous! SPFs between 30 and 50 have been proven to be most effective when reapplied as needed/directed. Never use a sunscreen with an SPF less than 15 as it does not protect against skin cancer or skin aging and certainly does not protect against painful knee burns!

Coppertone Oil Free Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30

Since my first summer lifeguarding, I have been a brand loyalist to Coppertone. This sunscreen is hypoallergenic, oil free and does not cause breakouts. The scent is mild and the residue is not sticky or oily. And the best part is it has protected me against those painful sunburns which would otherwise keep me off my stand.

Have a sunny and safe summer – and remember — No Running on the Pool Deck!

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