Sunscreen...always a hot topic!
Updated: Mar 26, 2020
Sunscreen, also known as sunblock, is a lotion, spray, gel, foam (such as an expanded foam lotion or whipped lotion), stick or other topical product that absorbs or reflects some of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation and thus helps protect against sunburn. Diligent use of sunscreen can also slow or temporarily prevent the development of wrinkles, dark spots and sagging skin.
Depending on the mode of action, sunscreens can be classified into physical sunscreens (i.e., zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which stay on the surface of the skin and mainly deflect the sunlight) or chemical sunscreens (i.e., UV organic filters, which absorb the UV light).
Know the 5 W's and 1 H of Sunscreen
1. Who needs sunscreen?
Everyone. Sunscreen use can help prevent skin cancer by protecting you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender or race. In fact, it is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. This includes people who tan easily and those who don’t — remember, your skin is damaged by sun exposure over your lifetime, whether or not you burn. Babies under the age of 6 months are the only exceptions; their skin is highly sensitive. Staying out of the sun; shade structures and sun-protective clothing are the best ways to safeguard infants.
2. What sunscreen should I use?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:
Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
SPF 30 or higher
A sunscreen that offers the above helps to protect your skin from sunburn, early skin aging and skin cancer. However, sunscreen alone cannot fully protect you. In addition to wearing sunscreen, dermatologists recommend taking the following steps to protect your skin and find skin cancer early:
Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
Dress to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.
Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, you may wish to use a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
Check you skin regularly. If you notice anything changing, itching, or bleeding on your skin, see a board-certified dermatologist. Skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early.
3. When should I use sunscreen?
Every day if you will be outside. The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.
Snow, sand, and water increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going outdoors. Reapply every two hours.
4. Where and How should I use sunscreen?
Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin that clothing will not cover. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body.
Don't forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head.
Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors.
Skin cancer also can form on the lips. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
When outdoors, reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.
Just like sun affects your skin, it also affects your hair. And if you protect your skin with sunscreen, it’s good practice to do the same for your hair. Sun exposure breaks down the proteins in the hair, which causes ... breakage and split ends. UVB rays oxidize the hair and break down the proteins in the hair that keep it healthy. Use a simple heat protectant hair mist or hair serum that states protection from UV rays on the label. The most fashionable option, where a nice fancy hat!
5. Why should I use sunscreen?
Hellooo! To save yourself from skin burning, damage and cancer. *sigh*
What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth — UVA rays and UVB rays. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer. In addition to causing skin cancer, here’s what each of these rays do:
UVA rays (or aging rays) can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots, and can pass through window glass.
UVB rays (or burning rays) are the primary cause of sunburn and are blocked by window glass.
What is the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens?
Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. They contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate. These formulations tend to be easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue.
Physical sunscreens work like a shield, sitting sit on the surface of your skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. They contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Opt for this sunscreen if you have sensitive skin.
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin if you apply the sunscreen exactly as directed compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. So, if you use an SPF 30 product properly, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you used no sunscreen.
Is a high-number SPF better than a low-number one?
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun's UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun's UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun's UVB rays. It is also important to remember that high-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs. A high-number SPF does not allow you to spend additional time outdoors without reapplication. Sunscreens should be reapplied approximately every two hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.
Choosing a sunscreen? What to look for
Broad spectrum: Protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF 15: Ideal for every day, occasional exposure, like walking your dog, or driving to work.
SPF 30 or higher: Necessary for extended outdoor activities, including distance running, hiking, swimming and outdoor sports. SPF 30 is a must if you work outdoors. Water resistant and very water resistant: For swimming or intense exercise. No sunscreen is waterproof; they all eventually wash off. Sunscreens labeled water resistant are tested to be effective for up to 40 minutes of swimming, while very water resistant sunscreens stay effective for up to 80 minutes in the water.