What’s in a bottle: understanding sunscreen

Understanding sunscreen - the basics

Everyone has been there, standing in an aisle at the supermarket staring at the seemingly endless selection of sunscreens. The choices alone can be overwhelming, not to mention the countless options and varieties: Water-proof, UVB, water-resistant, SPF, broad-spectrum – all these options, and yet the only clear-cut thing is the broad spectrum of choices. Understanding sunscreen and its importance in daily use will help you select the right sunscreen like a pro and keep your skin healthy.

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Often the first thing that jumps to the eye is SPF: a number in large print placed on the front of the bottle, ranging from 5 to 50+. But what does the number mean? SPF stands for sun protection factor – or how well the sunscreen protects your skin from the sun’s harmful UVB rays (the ones that cause sunburns). Unfortunately, the SPF scale is not linear which means that SPF 30 does not block twice as much UVB as SPF 15. In fact, SPF 15 blocks 93% of the sun’s rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97%! That being said, there is no SPF which provides 100% protection, and any SPF over 30 is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology. Don’t forget that clothing and shade provide even better protection – so hats and long-sleeve shirts are highly effective.

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Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen because water and sweat wash away the sunscreen over time. The two labels that are FDA approved are water resistant (effective for 40 minutes in the water) and very water resistant (effective for 80 minutes in the water). It’s important to note that even if you’re not getting into the water, you’ll need to reapply every 2 hours.

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The sun makes several types of ultraviolet rays that can reach our skin. Ultraviolet A rays (UVA) are responsible for causing wrinkles and age spots. Ultraviolet B rays (UVB) are the main cause of sunburns. Broad spectrum sunscreen means that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays, which is great because too much of either UVA or UVB can lead to skin cancer. Since UVA rays can pass through glass, people who drive daily could benefit from applying broad-spectrum sunscreen to your hands, arms, and face which can help protect your left side from aging faster than your right.

Just remember, the most important thing about sunscreen is using it, and using it frequently. Your skin is one of the most important organs, protecting your body from the harsh environment. Every day we are exposed to more sun than we think; using sunscreen daily can help delay the collective sun damage that causes wrinkling, sun spots, and skin cancer. But now, with knowledge and understanding of sunscreen, you can take control of your skin health –keeping your skin as healthy as it looks!