Between arranging summer plans and enjoying the sunny weather, one thought tends to slip through the cracks of people’s minds: applying sunscreen. Spending time in the sun has clear benefits, but there can also be risks associated with unprotected sun exposure. Most people already understand the consequences of not wearing sunscreen following long days outside and getting painful sunburns afterward. But just how much do you know about how sunscreen works to protect your skin? Here is a guide to understanding the importance of sunscreen and making use of its benefits as you spend time outdoors.
- Sunscreen’s role in protecting our skin
- Sunscreen benefits everyone
- Choosing the right products
- Recommended sunscreen usage
- Health risks from sun exposure
- Health benefits from sunscreen
Sunscreen’s role in protecting our skin
Let’s establish just what sunscreen does and what it protects against. Sunscreen reflects ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun instead of our skin absorbing those harmful rays. There are two different types of UV rays sunscreens should protect from: UVA and UVB. UVA rays are known to prematurely age skin and can penetrate the skin deeper than UVB rays which are the main cause of sunburns. Broadband sunscreens are those that can protect the skin from both types of UV radiation.
Sunscreen is measured in SPF aka Sun Protection Factor which is determined by a sunscreen’s ability to deflect UVB rays. The MD Anderson Cancer Center recommends choosing a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF for everyday wear. SPF 30 is already 97% effective at preventing sunburns when used correctly so using a sunscreen with over SPF 30 isn’t considerably more powerful than SPF 30.
Sunscreen benefits everyone
Despite what you may have heard, sunscreen should be used by everyone, not just people that “burn easier”. However, there are groups of people more susceptible to the negative effects of UV rays whom the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recognizes the importance of sunscreen for. These people include those with pale skin, have lighter eye/hair colors, or a family history of skin cancer. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency responsible for regulating sunscreens, does not advise applying sunscreen to babies under six months of age whose skin is more sensitive to chemicals found in sunscreen.
Choosing the right products
Let’s explore two types of sunscreen ingredients and a variety of applications able to suit everyone’s SPF needs. The first type is chemical sunscreens which work by absorbing into the skin absorbing UV rays and comprise of six chemical UV filters. The second and more popular type is physical or mineral sunscreen which sits atop the skin and deflects UV rays and usually contains active ingredients titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide. Mineral sunscreens are popular for those with sensitive skin but are known for a white cast left on the skin.
While some people rely solely on SPF found in cosmetics, it’s recommended to use sunscreen in conjunction with these products for optimal skin protection. Sunscreen comes in different forms or applications like gels, creams, and lotions. A popular application of sunscreen is sprays which require generous coatings and shouldn’t be applied near an open flame. There are also sunscreen options meant for specific uses like facial applications.
Recommended sunscreen usage
Thankfully, it is simple to understand how sunscreen should be used because instructions are consistent between all forms of SPF. Even if you are not in direct sunlight, it’s advisable to apply sunscreen every day because UVA rays can pass through windows. Give time for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin by applying it 15-30 minutes before sun exposure. It’s important to re-apply sunscreen every two hours to exposed areas to prevent sunburns, especially if you are swimming or participating in outdoor activities.
To prevent UV damage to the skin, use sunscreen along with other methods of protection. These can be as simple as staying in the shade, protecting your lips with lip balm with SPF 30+, and wearing UV protective clothing.
Health risks of sun exposure
You might be asking, what could happen if someone chooses to ignore the importance of sunscreen and its benefits? The most severe health risk of exposure to UV rays is skin cancer. UV radiation is the primary cause of skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and melanoma, the most deadly form. Skin cancers are among the most common in American adults and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claims one in five Americans will have skin cancer at some point in their life. Besides sunburns, skin damage, and skin cancer UV radiation can cause eye damage that can be prevented by wearing sunglasses.
Health benefits from sunscreen
Understanding just all the ways SPF benefits your health comes along with acknowledging the importance of sunscreen. We already touched on how wearing broadband sunscreen can prevent painful sunburns. But did you know consistently applying sunscreen can make you look younger? According to Dr. Adeline Kikam for Dermstore, the sun’s UV rays are more responsible for fine lines and wrinkles than our genetics. Sun exposure also causes hyperpigmentation or dark spots to appear due to an overproduction of melanin that sunscreen prevents. SPF also prevents damage to immune-support cells responsible for keeping the rest of our bodies whole and healthy.
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