As reported by The Hartford Courant, August 1, 2006.

Here's the Rub on Sunscreen Use

By Jane Porter

It burns. It stings. It flakes and peels. And yet every summer you come back for more.

Make way for the dreaded sunburn.

This summer, consumers have been complaining that spray-on sunscreen - its easy application and lightweight consistency - may be causing their sunburns. But experts say it's not the sunscreen itself but rather the way we are using it that causes burns.

With temperatures expected to reach a sizzling 100-plus degrees today and Wednesday, avoiding that burn isn't a matter of choosing one product over another; it means understanding how to use SPF the right way.

"Most people aren't aware that if you put sunscreen on, it doesn't give you liberty to be outdoors all day," said Jane Grant-Kels, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Dermatology at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. "Nowhere on the bottle does it say you can lie in the sun all day."

David J. Leffell, professor of dermatology at the Yale School of Medicine, agrees, saying sunscreen users tend to be overly confident. "Just because [spray-on sunscreen] goes on easily doesn't mean you don't have to apply it just as frequently," he said.

The same goes for lotions and other forms of sun protection.

Here are some quick skin-saving facts to help avoid the dreaded day-after burn:

Apply sunscreen an hour before heading outside:

"Most people go to the beach, undress and then put the sunscreen on," said Robert Greenberg, a Vernon dermatologist. Applying SPF an hour before going out in the sun is critical because it takes that long for the chemicals in the sunscreen that prevent burns to bind with the outer layer of the skin.

Sunbathers who don't put SPF on in advance can often burn during their first hour outside, even if they are applying and reapplying lotion regularly, Greenberg said.

Bring a shot glass to the beach.

That's how much sunscreen you should be smoothing onto your skin each time you apply it. And, according to Grant-Kels, you should reapply that much every two hours when out in the sun.

Sunscreen has a typical shelf-life of up to three years, said Coppertone spokeswoman Beth Lange. But if you're using it properly, a six-ounce bottle shouldn't last much longer than a weekend trip to the beach.

With sprays, it's a little trickier to measure the amount being used, Grant-Kels said, but for those with little time for lotions, a spray that is well applied and rubbed in can work just as effectively as a cream.

A T-shirt won't do the trick.

Hold a white shirt up to the light, and see how much light shines through the fabric. That's how much sunlight is hitting your skin when you're outdoors. A thin T-shirt does not necessarily protect your skin from burns, and a wet one in particular is not protective.

Tightly knit clothing that doesn't allow the sun's rays to get to the skin can offer better sun protection. Grant-Kels suggests shrinking a long-sleeve shirt that is too large so the fabric becomes more tightly woven.

Dark colors also reflect light and are a safer alternative to lighter colored clothing.

No sun doesn't mean no burn.

Cool temperatures and an overcast sky don't protect you from the sun's harmful rays. Lube up even on a cloudy day, when some of the most dangerous burns can happen, Grant-Kels advised.

"You have to realize how powerful the sun is," Leffell said. "There are people who can get a burn in half an hour in our climate in the summer."