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.
As time marches on, trends go in and out of fashion. Slim-fitting pants are in, knee-length shorts are out. Natural hair is in - bushy perms are out. Healthy skin is in - tanning is out.
People are starting to realize that no tan is worth the risk of skin cancer. Beyond just the safety risk, tanning is also associated with an increase in wrinkles and other signs of premature aging. If you want to look your best into old age, a healthy approach to sun exposure is the best route.
But even people trying to avoid UV damage might not realize the truth - the sun can still cause damage on a cool, cloudy day. Here's what you need to know.
Why "tanning" isn't always what you think
Most people associate tanning with a long day at the beach or a Fourth of July BBQ. But you can get tanned - or burnt - even on a cool day. The temperature has no effect on the sun's rays.
Now that it's spring, more people are opting to sit outside at their favorite restaurant or bar. If you grab a table outside, apply sunscreen a few minutes before sitting down. Even if you're not burning up, you're still at risk of sun damage.
If you plan a long day of sitting at the beer garden with your friends, remember to reapply the sunscreen every two hours. A hat and sunglasses will also offer important sun protection.
Early spring is a volatile time for many parts of the country. It might be rainy and sunny or cold and hot in the same day.
No matter what the outdoor temperature is like, you should still cover up when puttering around in the garden or taking a walk in the park. If possible, wear a wide-brim hat, cover your arms and legs and put sunscreen on any exposed skin. Avoid outdoor activities in the afternoon if possible.
Snow and winter sports
If you're going skiing or snowboarding, you probably remember to pack your gloves, hat and other winter gear. Another important accessory to bring? Sunscreen.
Getting sunburned on the slopes is common, because you're closer to the sun at high altitudes. The sun reflecting off the snow is also more powerful than people realize.
If you're going skiing, remember to apply sunscreen before you hit the lifts and reapply every few hours. You should also use sunglasses and lip balm with SPF to protect your eyes and lips.
How to use your tax-free funds
Sunscreen is both HSA- and FSA-eligible, and you don't need a prescription to buy it with your funds. You can buy any kind of sunscreen, including lotion, spray or powder, as long as it's broad-spectrum and SPF 15+ (and allowed by your plan, of course). You can't use HSA or FSA funds on sunglasses, unless they're also prescription glasses. Hats and clothes with SPF also are not eligible.
Today, most people are already well aware of just how important sunscreen is to staying healthy while being exposed to the sun. It helps prevent skin cancer, premature aging, wrinkles, and sunburns and is an essential component of all skincare routines.
But for something so common and important, it tends to be totally misunderstood by many. What exactly does sunscreen do? Are they all the same? And how often do you need to put it on? Even people who use sunscreen on a near daily basis might not be aware of the real answers to these important questions.
Understanding the truth about how sunscreen works and how you should really be using it will allow you to get the full benefits from the product while enjoying your time in the sun. Let's start with these...
Myth 1: You only need sunscreen when it's hot and sunny out
Many people think you only need to apply sunscreen when the sun is directly shining down on you in a cloudless sky. But the truth is that the UV rays from the sun are always harmful, even if it doesn't feel hot out. Even on an overcast day when only your face and arms are exposed, you should be using sunscreen.
Myth 2: All sunscreen is created equal
There are a lot of people who believe that all sunscreen gets the job done equally well. What many people don't realize is that there are a slew of various active ingredients in the different brands that protect users from harmful rays in different ways. This is why it's so important to use a full spectrum sunscreen that will protect you from UVA and UVB light.
Myth 3: Sunscreen is waterproof and sweatproof
It's not uncommon to see sunscreens labeled as waterproof or sweatproof. Unfortunately, these labels lull people into a false sense of security as no sunscreen can be totally waterproof or sweat resistant. Always reapply sunscreen after you've been in the water or working out. You should also let sunscreen settle on your skin for 10-15 minutes before jumping into the water.
Myth 4: You only need to apply sunscreen once a day
Contrary to popular belief, one application of sunscreen will not last you all day. The truth is that sunscreen loses its effectiveness fairly quickly as the ingredients break down in the UV light. For maximum protection, you should apply a new coat of sunscreen every 2-4 hours.
Myth 5: If you use sunscreen, there's no need to cover up
It's easy to think that sunscreen will totally protect you from harmful UV rays, so many people don't bother covering up with hats or clothing when they head out. In reality, sunscreen will never make you totally safe from the sun, and covering up is far more effective. Wear long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats for the best protection.
Myth 6: People with darker skin don't need sunscreen
While it's true that people with more melanin in their skin are naturally better protected against sunburns than people with fair skin, they aren't immune to the negative effects of sun exposure. Melanin diffuses UVB rays, but it doesn't block UVA light. It's also important to note that darker skin is not protected from skin cancer or premature skin aging caused by sun exposure.