What You Need to Know About Sunscreen
It’s summer and it’s hot outside. The sun is out in all its glory. The weather forecast predicts afternoon temperatures in the high 90s. So, will you put on sunscreen when you go out grocery shopping?
Sunscreen for grocery shopping? You would definitely dab on sunscreen before leaving for a trip to the pool, but you plan on driving to the grocery store. You’ll only be outside as you walk between your car and some stores. At most, you’ll pick up a few more minutes of sun time while picking up your daughter from playgroup.
Though many of us think this way, our perception of sunscreen, its usage and application is based on outdated information. As the heat revs up and summer launches, it’s time to update our sunscreen knowledge.
Before we get into sunscreen, we need to understand something about the sun: It’s dangerous. Yet, it is also essential to humankind. Without the sun, human life would cease to exist. When absorbed in large quantities, the sun’s ultraviolet rays can cause skin damage, eye damage and skin cancer.
On the esthetic end, you protect yourself from the sun in order to avoid wrinkles; but on a medical end, you protect yourself from the sun to avoid skin cancer. Across the board, in all medical literature, it is accepted that it is absolutely necessary to protect yourself against the sun.
There are a lot of myths associated with sunscreen. The biggest of them are based on misinformation. One such myth is that sunscreen is only necessary on really sunny days. But, that myth disregards the fact that the sun emits two different types of ultraviolet rays. These UV rays are known as UVA and UVB rays.
UVB rays are what cause sunburn. They are shorter rays that hit and damage the outside layer of your skin. They are the rays that cause sunburn and have always been known to cause cancer. They are also the rays that vary in intensity: They are weaker in the mornings, evenings and winter and stronger in the afternoons and the summer.
In contrast, UVA rays penetrate our skin more deeply. They were previously known to be the cause of aging and wrinkling. But, over the past two decades, research has shown that they are also a cause of skin cancer. These rays are present all the time, with equal intensity, and can penetrate clouds and glass.
The ever-present UVA rays necessitate constant protection against the sun – during the afternoon and evening hours, during the winter, and when driving in a car. It’s suggested that even people working inside should wear sunscreen, because sun – and UVA rays – streams through the windows.
How To Apply
Okay, so now you know that you always need to apply sunscreen. Now you need to learn how to apply it. This is very important, because, paradoxically, studies show that the use of sunscreen actually increases the likelihood that users will burn in the sun.
This inconsistency is based on the fact that most users don’t apply sunscreen properly. Then, erroneously thinking that they’re protected, they expose themselves to the sun for hours. No wonder they burn!
To be effective, sunscreen should first be applied twenty minutes before leaving your home. This gives the sunscreen time to bind to your skin. You should use at least 1 oz. of sunscreen for good coverage. Most people apply only 1/4 or a 1/2 of that amount. Most important is that sunscreen must be reapplied. Current studies suggest reapplication after two hours out in the sun. It also should be reapplied after swimming or extensive sweating.
Found an old bottle of sunscreen in the back of your medicine cabinet? Check its date before you decide to use it. Outdated sunscreen can be completely ineffective. Besides, if you have sunscreen left over after a busy summer, you’re probably not applying enough!
Now onto the big question: What type of sunscreen should you use? Before deciding this issue, let’s discuss a term you’ve seen on all sunscreen bottles: SPF, or sun protection factor.
The SPF number should give a person that much more time in the sun. For instance, if it normally takes ten minutes for a person to burn in the sun, with a sunscreen of SPF 15, he should only burn after 150 minutes (10 minutes X SPF 15). However, this number is imprecise because there are many factors that come into play such as skin type, intensity of the sun rays, and the amount of sunscreen applied.
It is commonly accepted that, if applied properly, sunscreen with a SPF of 15 blocks 93% of the sun rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. These small differences in percentage are particularly important to people with light or sensitive skin or with a history of skin cancer. Note that there is no SPF that blocks all of the sun rays.
Another term to look out for when choosing a sunscreen is “broad spectrum”. As we explained, there is a growing concern regarding the long-term carcinogenic effects of UVA rays. A broad spectrum sunscreen provides protection against both UVB and UVA rays. So you want to make sure that your sunscreen has a SPF of 15 or higher and that it provides broad spectrum protection.
Recently, there has been growing concern regarding some of the chemicals used in most sunscreens. Chemicals are an important component of sunscreens because they work to absorb or scatter the UV rays. However, these chemicals can have unwanted side effects. Avobenzone is one of the most common chemicals used in sunscreens, but some laboratory tests indicate that it may disrupt the endocrine/hormone system. Despite these concerns, the FDA, backed by many studies, maintains that these chemicals and sunscreens are safe for use.
To avoid spreading chemicals on their – or their children’s skin – some people use mineral sunscreens. These sunscreens are based on minerals, primarily zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which physically block the sun from entering your skin. These sunscreens are broad spectrum – they effectively block both UVA and UVB rays. However, they are usually harder to spread than chemical sunscreens and they wash off in the water, so they’re not a good choice for the pool or beach.
It’s clear that using sunscreen, particularly broad-spectrum, high SPF sunscreen, is an important component of proper sun protection. But, no matter how religious you are about applying sunscreen and how often you reapply it, sunscreen never provides full protection from the sun. You need a broader sun-protection program to protect your family.
After sunscreen, the next element in your sun-protection program should be shade. Keep your family out of the sun during the hottest parts of the day, particularly in the summer, when the UVB rays are very intense at midday. Stay indoors; read books, play a game and take out the arts & crafts box. Take the kids to the pool in the mornings or late afternoons.
Whatever you do, keep in mind that babies under six months of age should not be exposed to the sun at all. Their skin is too sensitive for any sun rays and for the chemicals in the sunscreen. Keep them in the shade. Give them a hat.
Talking about hats brings us to the subject of clothes. Clothes offer a great protection against the sun’s rays – an extra benefit of modest dress. Different types of materials offer different levels of protection. Choose clothes with darker colors and with a close weave – like a t-shirt.
When choosing a hat, look at its brim. You want a wide brim. You also want a brim that goes all the way around: Baseball caps offer great protection for your face – but what about your neck? Start a new style, wear a floppy straw hat.
Now, let’s ask you again: Will you put on sunscreen when you go out grocery shopping? The answer should now be a definite yes – no matter what the temperature is outside. Furthermore, you will liberally apply the sunscreen at least twenty minutes before you leave the house, you will bring along more sunscreen for future applications, and you will limit your grocery shopping to early morning or late afternoon/evening hours. Now you’ll have done your all to protect yourself from the sun’s rays – especially if you’re grocery shopping wearing a floppy straw hat.
Written By: Dini Harris