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If you think you only need to use sunscreen in the summer—you’re wrong. Exposure to sun throughout the year means you’re exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays, and UV rays are bad for our skin. UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells. Skin cancers start when this damage affects the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth.

Another common misconception is that you only need to use sunscreen on sunny days. Actually, being outside on a cloudy day can be just as dangerous. Luckily, protecting yourself from UV rays is easy to do. Just remember these tips from UV-Blocker.com:

  • The sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so make sure you use sun protection during those hours.
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats to protect your face and neck areas, and sit under umbrellas outdoors, whenever possible.
  • Wear sunglasses that block 99-100 percent of UV radiation and offer total UVA and UVB protection.
  • Wear sunscreen year-round with at least a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher.

    Before you buy sunscreen, consider this information:

    UV Rays: There are 3 main types of UV rays:

    1. UVA rays age skin cells and can damage their DNA. These rays are linked to long-term skin damage such as wrinkles, but they are also thought to play a role in some skin cancers.

    2. UVB rays have slightly more energy than UVA rays, cause sunburns, and can damage skin cells’ DNA directly. They are believed to cause skin cancer.

    3. UVC rays have more energy than the other types of UV rays, and are considered the most dangerous and deadly. Luckily, the earth’s ozone layer keeps them from reaching us.

    UV Protection in Sunscreen: The perfect sunscreen blocks the majority of UVA and UVB rays with active ingredients that do not break down in the sun. It also contains ingredients that are proven to be completely safe for both adults and children. Unfortunately, according to research group EWG, there is no sunscreen on the U.S. market that meets all these criteria. Plus, the FDA does not regulate the marketing campaigns of sunscreen manufacturers, so they may claim more than they can guarantee.

    When to Apply: According to the American Cancer Society, when it comes to sunscreen, put it on early, regularly and generously. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and at least every two hours thereafter. Reapply it after being in the water, sweating a lot or towel drying. And don’t believe the waterproof claims of some manufacturers. Reapply after getting wet.

    Which SPF to Buy: More important than knowing the right number to buy, is remembering to apply and reapply generously. UVA protection in American sunscreens maxes out at about 15 to 20, so going for the biggest number isn’t really necessary. The American Cancer Society recommends people use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, while the American Academy of Dermatology recommends 30.

    For a ranking of the most effective sunscreens, check Consumer Reports.

    Rieva Lesonsky is an entrepreneur, best-selling author and self-educated health nut. Follow her @Rieva.

    Photo Credit: Jochen Sand/iStock/Thinkstock