Everything You Need to Know About Sunscreen
I’m sure that by now you know that wearing sunscreen daily (not just when you’re at the beach) is recommended. 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.
Are you confused by the choices? Nowadays, almost every drug store has multiple shelves that display endless products dedicated to protecting your skin from the sun. Having so many options isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but with so many products to choose from — each claiming to last the longest, apply the easiest or best resist sweat— it can be difficult to figure out what the best option for your skin really is.
You may have heard people refer to sun cream, sunscreen and sunblock. Are these words synonyms? Is sunblock an outdated term only your parents use? Plus, what’s broad-spectrum sunscreen? What’s the real difference between all these terms? And which SPF is enough? It’s time to set the record straight.
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
Types of Sunscreen
Lotions: The most traditional type of sunscreen is lotion that rubs into the skin. Lotions rely on either chemical absorbers that absorb UV rays before they hit the skin, or physical blockers that reflect UV rays using natural ingredients like titanium oxide or zinc oxide. We will cover this too 😉
Sprays: Spray-on sunscreens have been proven to be as effective as lotions, and they offer convenient application with no mess. The only downside is that people often don’t apply as much sunscreen with a spray as they would with a lotion, so spray on some extra to make sure you’re covered!
Moisturizers & Makeup: If you need sunscreen regularly, consider using a separate product for your face, since sunscreen may irritate your skin or clog your pores. Some moisturizers and makeup products include SPF so you can protect your skin without adding an extra step to your routine!
Water resistant: If you’re going swimming or playing sports, make sure to get a water resistant sunscreen that won’t come off in contact with water or sweat.
What is sunblock?
In 2011, the FDA banned advertisers from using the word “sunblock” to describe products, as they believe the term overstates effectiveness. So, despite the word remaining in our vocabularies, what was once known as sunblock is now referred to as a mineral sunscreen or physical sunscreen by advertisers and manufacturers.
This type of sunscreen acts as a physical barrier between the sun and your skin. It contains minerals — such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide — that act as UV filters by reflecting the sun’s harmful rays before they are able to penetrate into the layers of our skin.
When physical sunscreens are rubbed off the skin, they’re essentially ineffective. This is why the FDA also banned companies that produce physical sunscreens from using the terms “sweat resistant” and “waterproof” when describing their products. They can, however, be called “water resistant” if the formula repels water.
This type of sunscreen must be applied more carefully, to ensure they cover every inch of the skin.
If the skin remains dry, physical barrier sunscreens do last longer than chemical sunscreens and are less likely to clog pores. For this reason, and because they remain on the surface of the skin to deflect the sun’s heat and energy, they’re ideal for those with sensitive or acne prone complexions.
What is sunscreen?
Although all forms of sun protection are now technically referred to as sunscreen, the word typically (and traditionally) implies a form of chemical sun protection that prevents skin damage by absorbing harmful UV radiation. Organic compounds in chemical sunscreens-such as avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone-are actually absorbed into the skin rather than sitting on top of it to act as effective UV filters. When exposed to UV rays, these compounds undergo chemical reactions that convert radiation into heat, which is then released from your skin. As the compounds are converted into heat, the sunscreen begins to lose its protective abilities. This is why frequent re-application is necessary when your skin is exposed to direct UV light for extended periods. It’s also why chemical sunscreens increase redness, and exacerbate flushing in sensitive or rosacea-prone skin.
Unlike physical barriers, chemical-based sunscreen is meant be applied 30 minutes before exposure to UV rays so that it can be properly absorbed into the skin. Be aware that chemical sunscreens are often oil based, therefore they can clog they pores they are penetrating.
What is broad-spectrum sunscreen?
A broad-spectrum sunscreen contains ingredients that protect users from both UVA and UVB rays. Thus, broad-spectrum formulas usually contain both physical and chemical sun protection ingredients, although there are certain chemical and physical ingredients that work to repel both types of UV light.
Because broad-spectrum sunscreens protect from both types of harmful sun rays, opting for this type of sunscreen is always recommended.
I recommend CELLULAR Laboratories De-Aging Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50+. It acts as a shield to protect skin from UVA and UVB damage which can cause burning, reddening and premature agin. It has four sunscreen actives protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays. This paraben-free formula is also comfortable to wear.
How can I tell the difference?
Most formulas are simply called sunscreen nowadays, so it can be difficult to work out which type of sunscreen is which. However, the easiest way to find out if you’re buying a physical sunscreen or a chemical sunscreen is to look at the ingredients.
Finding a physical vs. chemical formula
If the sunscreen only contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, it’s a physical ‘sunblock’.
If an ingredient list includes octinoxate, homosalate, octocrylene, oxybenzone, octisalate, and/or avobenzone, these are UVA-protecting ingredients, and it’s a chemical sunscreen.
Identifying a broad-spectrum formula
Most likely, any broad-spectrum formula will be identified as such. However, certain ingredients, both chemical and physical, are broad-spectrum: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, octylmethyl, salicylates, and sulisobenzone are among the most common.
It’s likely that if the ingredient list contains one of the UVA-protecting chemicals listed above plus a zinc or titanium, it’s a broad-spectrum product.
All About SPF
What does SPF stand for?
SPF stands for sun protection factor, and the SPF number tells you how many times longer the sunscreen allows you to stay in the sun without burning. For example, an SPF of 30 means it will take you 30 times longer to burn (10 minutes to burn without sunscreen and 300 minutes with sunscreen).
What level of SPF do I need?
Contrary to what you might think, an SPF of 30 isn’t twice as effective as SPF 15. After a certain SPF level, the added benefit becomes increasingly minimal. SPF 15 blocks about 93% of harmful UV rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. In most cases, an SPF level over 30 is unnecessary, so keep that in mind before shelling out extra money for a higher SPF number-but it won’t hurt anything either.
Does SPF block all types of harmful UV rays?
SPF protects against ultraviolet B rays, which is what causes sunburn, but it may not protect against ultraviolet A rays, which can cause skin cancer and premature aging of the skin. If you want to be sure you’re protected against both types of UV rays, look for a sunscreen that’s labeled “broad-spectrum.”
- Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to allow it to properly sink into your skin.
- Not sure how much sunscreen to use? A good rule of thumb is to use 1 teaspoon for each body part (face and neck, arm, leg, chest, and back).
- Reapply your sunscreen every 2 hours for the best protection. Even if your skin isn’t burning, you could be at risk from harmful UV rays after that period.
Sunscreen 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.
- Wear protective clothing, such as 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 your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, itching or bleeding on your skin, see a board-certified dermatologist. Skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early.