Written By Kevin Kerfoot / Reviewed By Ray Spotts
Scientific evidence supports the benefits of using sunscreen to minimize short-term and long-term damage to the skin from the sun’s UV rays. While 80 percent of Americans know they should apply sunscreen every two hours when outdoors, few do. With summer in full swing, you want to make sure you don’t get burned by confusing sunscreen labels or the sun’s harmful rays.
Research suggests that daily use of sunscreen reduces the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. However, sunscreen labels can be confusing for even the most sun-savvy consumers.
An SPF 30 sunscreen blocks 97 percent of the sun's UVB rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun's UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun's UVB rays. Follow a comprehensive sun protection plan that includes three simple steps when outdoors: wear sun-protective clothing, seek shade when appropriate, and apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors. You should apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. Most adults need about one ounce to fully cover their body.
“Reapplication is key along with understanding SPF,” says board-certified dermatologist Henry W. Lim, MD, FAAD, former chair of the department of dermatology at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. “Many people mistakenly assume that they can apply the sunscreen with the highest SPF rating and then stay out in the sun all day without reapplying, however, SPF is a measurement of how well a sunscreen protects the skin from the sun’s UVB rays, which cause sunburn. It is not a measurement of how long someone can stay in the sun or how frequently it needs to be applied.”
Broad spectrum and water-resistant sunscreens
“Broad spectrum” is a term used on sunscreen labels to indicate that the sunscreen protects against two types of harmful ultraviolet rays: UVB rays that can cause your skin to burn and UVA rays that can cause premature skin aging, including wrinkles and age spots. Both types of UV rays can lead to skin cancer without taking the proper precautions.
While there is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. water-resistant means the sunscreen will stay on wet skin for up to 40 to 80 minutes as identified on the label. Since sweat and water can wash sunscreen off the skin, sunscreens labeled water-resistant help keep sunscreen on the skin when you are active outdoors.
Chemical and physical sunscreens
When selecting a sunscreen it helps to familiarize yourself with the two types of sunscreens available: chemical and physical. Both protect you from the sun but in different ways.
Chemical sunscreens - which work like a sponge absorbing the sun’s rays - contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.
While studies have shown that some of these chemical sunscreens are absorbed into the body through the skin, just because an ingredient is absorbed into the body does not mean that it is harmful or unsafe.
Physical sunscreens – or mineral sunscreens – act like a shield and sit on the surface of the skin deflecting the sun’s rays. These are products that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Avoiding Sunburns This Summer
Overexposure to the sun can result in pre-cancerous and cancerous skin lesions due to decreases in the skin's immune function. Symptoms can include mottled pigmentation or discolored areas of the skin; sallowness or a yellow discoloration of the skin; telangiectasias or the dilation of small blood vessels under the skin; or elastosis - the destruction of the elastic and collagen tissue.
All skin types can burn so everyone should take precautions when heading out into the sun.
Tips to help avoid sunburns
A self-exam of your skin once a month helps you keep track of any irregularities. Learn the pattern of any moles, blemishes or freckles so that you will notice any changes. Sunglasses with UV protection, a wide-brimmed hat, and clothing with UPF protection - ultraviolet protection factor - help protect you from the sun.
Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen, which protects against all types of harmful rays, and one with a strong sun protection factor (SPF), which measures how well the sunscreen protects your skin compared to if you were not wearing it. The sun’s rays are the strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. so your skin is most susceptible to burning. Seek shade during these peak hours.
For the best protection, you typically need one ounce of sunscreen to cover your entire body, including your face, ears and scalp.
“The sun's UV rays damage the DNA in the cells of your skin,” says Suzanne Olbricht, MD, Chief of Dermatology at BIDMC. “These harmful DNA changes can be quite profound and you will sometimes see the damage in the form of peeling skin. That's why the older you get, the more aged your skin looks, and the more skin cancers you may have. Your repair mechanisms are damaged so just a little bit more sun can really affect your skin’s ability to repair itself.”
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With over 30 years of writing and editing experience for newspapers, magazines and corporate communications, Kevin Kerfoot writes about natural health, nutrition, skincare and oral hygiene for Trusted Health Products’ natural health blog and newsletters.
Founder Ray Spotts has a passion for all things natural and has made a life study of nature as it relates to health and well-being. Ray became a forerunner bringing products to market that are extraordinarily effective and free from potentially harmful chemicals and additives. For this reason Ray formed Trusted Health Products, a company you can trust for clean, effective, and healthy products. Ray is an organic gardener, likes fishing, hiking, and teaching and mentoring people to start new businesses. You can get his book for free, “How To Succeed In Business Based On God’s Word,” at www.rayspotts.com.