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Taking Sunscreen Seriously

Considering the rapid rate at which the ozone layer is depleting, the sun’s rays are more harmful than they were twenty or even ten years ago. Thankfully, sunscreen is readily available for us to use, lowering the risk of skin cancer, skin spots, etc.

Sunscreen is used to prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching and penetrating the skin. The sun’s radiation damages the skin and increases chances of developing skin cancer. There are two different kinds of sun radiation. UVB affects more of the top layers of skin, and is what causes sunburns. UVA affects the skin via wrinkling, leathering, sagging, etc., which affects the skin more deeply. UVA rays are closer linked to skin cancer.



What is SPF?

On every sunscreen bottle you’ll the SPF level – or Sun Protection Factor. SPF of 15 or higher protect against UVB rays damaging the skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation gives a good explanation of how SPF levels vary:


Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours.

Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference. And as you can see, no sunscreen can block all UV rays.

But there are problems with the SPF model: First, no sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to stay effective longer than two hours without reapplication. Second, “reddening” of the skin is a reaction to UVB rays alone and tells you little about what UVA damage you may be getting. Plenty of damage can be done without the red flag of sunburn being raised.


In short, you should know your skin type. You should also be aware that reapplication should happen every two hours, regardless if you’re burnt or not.


Who should wear it?

Sunscreen should be applied to anyone who is over six months old. Infants that are younger than six months should not be exposed to the sun anyway, as their skin is too sensitive for both the sun and the chemicals in the sunscreen. For anyone older, sunscreen should be applied whenever you’re planning on spending extended periods of time outside.


It is believed by some that most of our sun exposure happens when we’re kids, so applying sunscreen as an adult to avoid skin cancer is pointless. This myth is actually wrong. Studies have shown that we get less than 25 percent of our sun exposure before age 18. Rather, it is mainly men over the age 40 who spend lots of time outdoors that develop skin issues.


What kind should I use?

If you aren’t sure what kind of sunscreen to use to protect from UVA or UVB rays, it’s best to use a brand that offers protection from both. Many lotions, after-shave, and moisturizers have SPF 15 which will be enough for everyday activities in the sun. However, if you’re spending a lot of time outside in the sun, you’ll need more intense sunscreen, oftentimes the water-resistant, beachwear-type. This type is great whether you’re at the beach, gardening, or outside playing sports, as it will adhere to the skin and not drip off into your eyes.


How much should I use?

The the more often you use sunscreen, the better. Most people don’t use the amount they should to to begin with. Studies have shown that people only use about a quarter to a half of the amount that they should be using–which is 1 oz per application. This alters the effectiveness of the sunscreen, as their skin is not receiving the necessary amount needed for full protection. It’s best to apply sunscreen about a half hour before going into the sun, if possible, to allow the sunscreen to adhere to the skin correctly. This is specifically important to do before going into the water. If you apply it right before jumping into the pool or running into the ocean, it’ll just wash off before it’s every done your skin any good.


Again, sunscreen should be reapplied about every two hours. It should also be reapplied right after swimming, toweling down, or after sweating a lot.


Contrary to what many people may think, sunscreen should also be applied on cloudy days. Many believe that clouds prevent the UV rays from coming through, because the sun is out of sight. This is a myth. 40 percent of UV rays still come through, therefore, you can still get burned.



Sunscreen should never be skipped, no matter how “uncool” you may think you look wearing it. When your sunscreen-wearing friends look twenty years younger than you when you’re in your 70s, you’ll wish you put more sunscreen on. Its benefits are both short term and long term. But don’t just grab any sunscreen off the shelves; be sure to look at the bottle, note the SPF levels, and see what is right for you.


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