Sunscreen is a chemical that, to some degree, prevents Ultraviolet Radiation from reaching the skin. While there is no sunscreen that totally eliminates UV Radiation damage, many products when used properly, can protect the skin adequately.
In recent years there has been an explosion of sunscreen products on the market, making it somewhat confusing for the consumer. This is actually a good development, as it demonstrates that people are becoming increasingly aware of the need to protect their skin. Always look for a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that contains chemicals that prevent both UV-A and UV-B Radiation from penetrating the skin.
While no product is totally waterproof, look for “water resistant” sunscreens for long lasting wear, especially if you will be swimming or sweating. Find a product that is both easy to apply and feels good on your skin. There are many choices, including creams, moisturizers, gels, sprays, and solid sticks.
SPF stands for sun protection factor. It is a measure of how effective the sunscreen is in absorbing UV-B Radiation. For example, let’s say your unprotected skin typically burns after 10 minutes in the sun. If you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, it will extend the amount of time before your skin burns to 150 minutes, or two and one half hours. During this time, however, you should reapply the sunscreen to continue the protection.
In terms of percentages, a product with an SPF of 15 will block 93% of the UV-B rays; SPF 30 blocks 97%; and SPF 50 blocks 99%, so the difference in protection may not warrant the added expense of higher SPF products.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of approving a measure for UV-A Radiation protection, which will be based on a ranking of 1-4, from low to high. Until this happens, look for the words “broad spectrum” on the product label. Ingredients to look for include Avobenzone, Parsol 1789, Mexoryl, and Benzophenone-3. Some companies include a stabilizer in their products (like Helioplex) which makes the chemicals last longer on the skin.
The answer depends many factors, including your skin type, activity, time of day and the UV Index. For most skin types, a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 is recommended. If you have light skin, which burns easily however, you should use a product with SPF 30 or higher. If you will be spending minimal time in the sun, a moisturizer containing sunscreen may suffice, but if you plan to be active outside for long periods use a longer lasting product like a cream or gel. Spray sunscreens are convenient for hairy parts of the body, including the arms, legs, and back. If you are acne prone, choose sunscreens that are oil-free or non-cornodegenic.
For those with sensitive skin, the chemicals in most sunscreens can be difficult to tolerate. Try using a product that contains only physical blockers (Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide). A physical blocker does not penetrate the skin as chemical blockers do, but instead, sits on top of the skin to protect it from UV rays.
Many people are surprised when they use sunscreen and get sunburned anyway. This is probably because they don’t use sunscreen properly. For sunscreen to be effective, you must use enough, apply it before going outdoors, and reapply it often. And don’t forget your lips- use a lip balm with a minimum of SPF 15. Make it a habit to apply sunscreen or moisturizer with sunscreen every day as part of your morning routine. It should become as natural as brushing your teeth.
Sunscreen use causes Vitamin D deficiency. This is untrue as no sunscreen blocks 100% of sunlight. Most people get enough vitamin D through incidental sunlight exposure and a normal healthy diet including enriched milk and orange juice. For the elderly, shut-ins, and those whose culture requires complete clothing protection, Vitamin D supplements are available.
Most people receive 80% of their sun exposure by their 18th birthday so it doesn’t matter what damage I do to my skin now. This is also untrue, as this figure was erroneously concluded from past research. It is now commonly held that only about a quarter of sun exposure is attained by age 18 and as people are living longer and have more leisure time to spend outdoors, sun damage occurs throughout life. The need to SunGuard Your Skin applies to people of all ages.
I don’t need to use sunscreen when it’s cold outside or on a cloudy day. This is false. As much as 40% of the sun’s UV radiation can penetrate the earth on a cloudy day. People often obtain their worst sunburns on cloudy days when they don’t use protection. In winter, especially when there’s snow on the ground, UV radiation can be intense. People skiing at high altitudes are especially vulnerable and should always use sunscreen and lip balm.
Remember that while using sunscreen is a good way to protect yourself from UV Radiation, it should not be the only method used. Follow the steps to SunGuard Your Skin and try to use all of these suggestions for best protection.
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