4 Things to Know Before Applying That Sunscreen
You’ve got your bag packed and you’re ready to hit the pool for some quality relaxation time. You review your list. Water bottle – check. Book – check. Most importantly, sunscreen? Check! But before you head out the door, are you sure that sunscreen is protecting your precious skin? Follow these few tips to maximize your protection this summer.
1. Understanding Sunlight and Ultraviolet Rays
The sun is a powerful star that emits three types of ultra violet radiation into our atmosphere, ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC). Out of the three wavelengths, there are two different types of cancer-causing ultra violet rays, UVA and UVB. UVB rays penetrate through your first layer of skin, while UVA rays penetrate past your first layer into deeper layers.
UVA rays are long wave rays that cause premature aging, wrinkles, and damage your eyes. These rays can penetrate through glass and clothing, exposing you to harmful rays even when you think you’re safely covered, while UVB rays cannot. UVA rays also cause pigmentation changes to your skin (think tanning) and since your body’s natural defense is to protect your skin, it modifies the color of your skin to prevent further DNA damage. Tanning booths emit UVA rays that are 12 times stronger than the sun’s rays, exposing avid tanners to higher risks of developing skin cancers.
UVB rays are short wave rays that cause your skin to turn red and burn in the sun. These rays are most prevalent during the sun’s peak time in the sky, usually during the hours of 10am to 4pm. Look around, when you see that your shadow is shorter than your actual height, the sun in emitting its strongest UVB rays. UVB rays are also found in tanning booths, but they are less prevalent in the tanning spectrum.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, even on cloudy days, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is still between 40 to 80 percent strong. Therefore on a day with an overcast sky, you still need protection.
2. Analyzing Sun Protection Factor
Sun Protection Factor (commonly known as SPF) is the measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent ultra violet rays from damaging your skin. When you are reading a bottle’s label, keep in mind that SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. There is currently no sunscreen that can block all UVB rays.
One thing you must know about your skin before you determine how much SPF you need in your sunscreen is how much exposure it takes for you to burn in the sunlight. For example, a person who applies SPF 15 sunscreen and normally begins to burn from sunlight exposure after 20 minutes should be able to stay in the sunlight for 300 minutes. The SPF formula is a simple one: multiply the amount of minutes it takes you to burn by the SPF, thus 20 minutes times SPF 15 equals 300 minutes or 5 hours of safe sunning. You can apply this formula to any SPF:
(minutes before you burn) x (SPF) = minutes of protection
3. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) Regulations
The FDA commands authority on how companies can market their sunblock products. As of 2012, there are a few new FDA rules that control how companies explain their product on their label.
- The term Broad Spectrum refers to a product that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Broad Spectrum sunscreens contain three major protection components: PABA derivatives, titanium oxide, and zinc oxide. To receive this classification, a product must pass rigorous testing standards.
- No longer can companies market their sunscreens as “waterproof”, “sunblock”, and “sweat-proof”.
- Sunscreen can be sold as “water-resistant” for swimming and sweating but must specify the existing amount of protection time.
- All sunscreens will have a fact box label clearly explaining pertinent information and warnings.
4. How to Choose and Use a Sunscreen
Sunscreen comes in a variety of forms to best fit your activity level. Try out a few of these options to see what matches your needs.
- Creams work best for your face and body, and for people who suffer from dry skin.
- Gels work well for areas with hair like your scalp or a man’s chest.
- Sticks get those hard to reach areas like around your eyes or your ears.
- Sprays are efficient and are less messy, and can be easily stored in a purse or bag.
Remember that sunscreens have an expiration date of about 3 years. If you are unsure of how old your sunscreen is, check its color and consistency. If it seems old, throw it out. You shouldn’t entrust your skin’s health with an aged bottle that can’t give you the safeguarding you need.
Before you hit the great outdoors, try to apply your sunscreen 30 minutes prior to exposure. A good rule of thumb is to apply a shot glass sized measure, about 1.5 ounces, to your entire body. Be generous with your application. You should always apply more frequently after swimming, sweating or toweling off. And although you may be following the SPF formula, it’s best to reapply your sunscreen every two hours. You can never wear too much sunscreen, your skin will thank you later.