Sunscreen is one of the most vital FSA-eligible products available to American families for its role in preventing skin cancer, which 1 in 5 Americans will experience some time in their lifetime (AAD).
But what many people aren't aware of is what makes a sun care product eligible for flexible spending account dollars. Luckily, the main requirement is that it keeps the key feature that makes all sunscreens effective: broad spectrum protection.
We've all seen broad spectrum on sunscreen bottles, but what does it really mean? According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, ultraviolet rays are the key causes of sunburn and skin damage, which take the form of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVC rays are absorbed in the atmosphere, but the rest of this infrared light trickles down to us. But UVA/UVB rays damage skin in differing ways (University of Iowa):
These rays are the primary contributors to photoaging, or wrinkling of the skin that are most often associated with aging. They do this because they penetrate to deeper skin layers than UVB rays. UVA rays are the toughest to block, and traditional sunscreens are typically more effective in blocking UVB rays.
These are the sun's rays that affect your uppermost skin layers, and are the primary contributors to sunburn. These rays play the most active role in contributing to the formation of skin cancers, which can sometimes arise in dark-colored spots on the skin that can be the early signs of melanoma.
UV forecasts and sunscreen use
No sunscreen will be able to block 100% of UV rays, but broad spectrum sunscreens are the most effective in reducing the chance of sunburn and skin damage from prolonged sun exposure. Always use sunscreen when heading outdoors, but another tip to reduce your UV exposure year-round is to check on the UV Index in your area.
According to the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection (EPA), the UV Index is a calculation conducted by the National Weather Service for most ZIP codes across the U.S. to forecast the expected risk of excessive UV radiation.
Typically these are only reported on TV weather forecasts in events of extreme UV sun exposure, but if you want to be proactive about your sun care regimen, the EPA offers a free, downloadable UV Index app so you can be mindful of your risk wherever you're heading.
Did you know that Florida has the highest skin cancer rate in the country? That's why when my family moved to the Sunshine State, I knew it was time to start taking my skin health seriously -- especially this time of year.
You might already know that sunscreen is FSA-eligible. But did you know that trips to the dermatologist, protective lip balm, even some sunscreen/bug spray combos are also on the eligible list? Here's how to form healthy skin care and protection health habits – without skipping the sunshine altogether.
Use sunscreen everyday (no skipping)
I knew it was time to change my skin protection habits when I'd make it a habit to cover my son in sunscreen from head to toe before we went to the park, beach, or zoo – but I'd completely forget to cover myself.
Another reason it's important that you find a sunscreen just right for your little one? Just one blistering sunburn during childhood can nearly double skin cancer rates.
Invest in other types of sun protection
Your sunscreen options aren't just limited to sprays and lotions. Stock up on protective sun clothing for the whole family. Many retailers offer sun shirts, bathing suits and sun hats with SPF50 or higher, offering one more layer between your skin and the sun's damaging rays.
Also worth considering? High-quality sunglasses that offer UV protection for your eyes. Prescription sunglasses are eligible, as long as the lens also provide vision correction. And don't forget about your lips. Protective lip balm is another FSA-eligible way to keep your skin in top shape this summer.
If you want more bang for your buck, try investing in an SPF15+ sunscreen/bug repellent combo. Since bug spray alone isn't covered by your FSA, this is a great chance to kill two birds (er, bugs?) with one stone.
If the idea of stripping down to your skivvies and letting a stranger inspect your moles at close range doesn't top your to-do list, keep the facts in mind. It might just save your life.
Don't waste time hunting for ways to spend your tax-free funds. In That's Eligible?!, we'll bring you these updates so you don't have to. And for all things flex spending, be sure to check out the rest of our Learning Center, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.