The sunscreen aisle of your local grocery or drug store offers a lot of choices, but which is the right sunscreen for you and your family?
Sunscreens combine different ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin. There are two different kinds of UV radiation: UVA and UVB, damage the skin, age it prematurely, and increase your risk of skin cancer.
UVB rays are the main cause of a sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply, cause the wrinkling, leathering, or sagging effects of aging. UVA rays are increasingly being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own.
What is SPF?
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. This is how SPF works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer which would be about five hours. The majority of sunscreens with an SPF 15 or higher do great at protecting you against UVB rays.
Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference. And as you can see, no sunscreen can block all UV rays.
But there are problems with the SPF model: 1) Regardless of strength, no sunscreen should be expected to stay effective for longer than two hours without having to be re-applied. 2) The reddening of the skin is a reaction to UVB rays, and tells you little about what UVA rays are doing to your skin. Even without having a sunburn, UVA rays can still cause damage to your skin, which is quite frightening.
Who should be using sunscreen?
Everyone six months or older should be using a sunscreen each day. Even if you work inside you can still be exposed to UV radiation for brief periods throughout the day just by walking from your house to your car, into the store or even by sitting by a window.
Children under the age of six months should not be exposed to the sun, since their skin is highly sensitive to the sun’s rays. Also, the chemicals that are used in sunscreen should not be used on an infant because it can iritate the skin. The best way to protect your little one from the sun is shade and protective clothing.
Which kind of sunscreen should I be using?
It really depends on how much sun exposure you are anticipating. In all cases it is recommended that a broad-spectrum sunscreen offering protection against both UVA and UVB rays be used.
Many after shave lotions and moisturizers have a sunscreen mixed in, and it is usually the right amount for everyday activities with a few minutes here and there in the sun. However, if you spend a lot of time outside, you need stronger, water-resistant sunscreen that will stay on your skin. The water resistant types are also good for very hot days or while playing sports because they are less likely to get in your eyes when you sweat. However, these sunscreens may not be as good for everyday wear. They are usually more sticky and don’t apply very well with makeup, and will probably need to be re-applied every two hours.
How much sunscreen should I use and how often should I apply it?
To be sure that you get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you need to apply one ounce during each application. Studies show that most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than specified on the bottle. Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours. Sunscreens should also be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating a great deal to ensure maximum protection from the sun’s rays.
Take a look at our online store where we have a great selection of sunscreens.