You see it. You smell it. You slather it on. Sunscreen is all around us during summer, but chances are you don’t know all the facts about everyone’s favorite beach accessory and your skin could be at risk in the sun.
Sunscreen Facts #1
The sunscreen protection factor (SPF) number means something unique to each person.
Before smearing on some SPF 30 and thinking that you are suddenly invincible to the effects of our closest star, it’s important to understand just what this number means. The protection offered by a particular SPF number depends on the amount of time that you personally can spend in the sun - without any sunscreen – before burning. For example, if ten minutes is all it takes for you to turn bubblegum pink in the sun without any protection, then a sunscreen with SPF 30 will give you 30 X 10 = 300 minutes of sunburn-free enjoyment.
Sunscreen Facts #2
Sunscreens can be made from two types of ingredients, each of which works differently.
From a chemical perspective, sunscreens contain either organic or inorganic compounds. Organic compounds, such as oxybenzone, absorb ultraviolet (UV) rays emitted by the sun, and release their energy as heat, which is much less damaging to the skin than the rays themselves. Inorganic compounds like titanium dioxde and zinc oxide don’t offer this chemical protection, but instead coat the skin with a physical shield that blocks or reflects sunlight. Health professionals recommend using a sunscreen that contains both types of defense, and most commercial products contain a combination of organic and inorganic ingredients.
Sunscreen Facts #3
Sunscreen should never be your first, or only, line of defense.
Taking care of your skin in the sun requires a multi-pronged approach. No sunscreen is 100% effective, and spending time outside inevitably exposes you to UV radiation from the sun. To increase your protection, be sure to look into broad-spectrum sunscreens as they shield you from both UVA and UVB rays. In addition, wear hats, scarves or other clothing to cover bare skin and be sure to spend time in the shade or indoors during the late morning and afternoon, when sunshine is most intense.
Sunscreen Facts #4
Sunscreen should be applied early, liberally, and often.
That guy with the dab of sunscreen only on the tip of his nose would be better served on the set of Baywatch than on an actual beach. For best results, apply around a shot glass worth of sunscreen to each exposed body part. Sunscreen takes time to spread around and soak into the skin, so be sure to start lathering about twenty minutes before stepping into the sun. Keep the bottle handy, because you should reapply every two hours at least, and more frequently if you are sweating or swimming. No sunscreen is 100% waterproof.
Sunscreen Facts #5
Europe may have better sunscreens than the United States.
Overseas, sunscreen makers have more options for UV-fighting ingredients than their stateside counterparts. European manufacturers are able to choose from twenty-seven different ingredients, seven of which are specifically designed to fight UVA rays. American companies only have a selection of seventeen ingredients, and just three of them block UVA. Avobenzone is the most common UVA-fighting component of American sunscreens, yet studies have shown that three compounds exclusive to European products – namely Tinosorb M, Tinosorb S, and Mexoryl SX – are more effective. If you find yourself repeatedly exposed to heavy amounts of sunshine, consider looking across the pond for your protection.