(NEWS CENTER) - Scouring the sunscreen aisle may not seem all that difficult but dermatologists say not all sunscreens are created equal.
Dr. Tracey Weisberg is an oncologist at Maine Medical Center. One of her patients, Linda Stanley, is 67 years old and has faced multiple bouts of skin cancer.
Dr. Weisberg says the skin cancer was likely caused by repeated exposure to the sun.
As a child, Linda's mother used baby oil and iodine before her daughter went into the sun. The result was a lot of burns but no tans.
Dr. Weisberg says a number of studies suggest burning as a child doubles your risk for skin cancer. Skin cancer "is probably caused from repeated exposure to high intensity ionizing radiation from the sun," explains Dr. Weisberg, "Midday exposure... over and over again."
In Linda's case, that exposure cause squamos cell carcinoma on her arms and chest.
Linda warns that it's not the kind you want to get.
"You don't want to have to go into a program where you'll be sliced and diced," she says, "And that's the only way that skin cancer can be removed... by cutting and burning."
Greg Boucavalous is a pharmacist at Apothecary By Design in Portland. He explains that buying sunscreen isn't as simple as an SPF number.
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It's designed so that the number 15, 30 or 50, multiplies by ten the amount of time it should take you to get burned. If you normally burn in 10 minutes, an SPF 30 will extend that to about 300 minutes.
But that's not the whole story.
Sunscreens don't necessarily protect you from all of the light that can damage your skin.
Two spectra are behind the damage, UVA and UVB. SPF is generally only related to the UVB rays.
UVA rays damage a deeper layer of skin.
Boucavalous says the protection you buy should be a "broad spectrum" formula. Those cover both damaging rays.
It gets a little more complicated.
Boucavalous specializes in alternative therapies and nutritional supplements. He suggests shooting for a sunscreen that's made with natural ingredients, plus a broad spectrum and high SPF rating.
He says if you can pronounce most of the ingredients, you should be OK.
Linda Stanley says she's learned her lesson. She wears sunscreen at all times - even indoors.
Dr. Weisberg says you shouldn't avoid sunlight because of all of this. She says humans are meant to be outside. She says beyond sunscreen, you should always consider wearing a hat and a shirt.
"Man was meant to be outside," says Dr. Weisberg, "If you have to be out during the peak hours of radiation, y'know, cover yourself. And that's just smart."