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In The Know: Sunscreens Explained

SunBuddy Lotion Applicator - Sunscreens Explained

With a plethora of sunscreen lotions available on the market, it can be difficult to choose which one is right for you. Each sunscreen makes claims that are purely for marketing purposes, so by knowing the basics below, you’ll be able to decipher the facts from the fluff.

What is Sunscreen?

Sunscreen helps prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation rays, particularly UVA and UVB, from reaching and damaging the skin. UVB rays are the chief cause of redness and sunburns and damage the top layers of the skin.

UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin and are responsible for prematurely aging skin by causing it to wrinkle and to become leather-like. UVA is the dominant tanning ray and accelerates the development of skin cancer, especially by intensifying the carcinogen effects of UVB rays. UVA rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface and is the type of ray tanning booths emit, but with a dose 12 times more powerful than the sun.

What is SPF?

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays, not UVA rays, from damaging the skin. In simple terms, SPF prevents you from getting ‘burned.’ However, reddening” is caused to UVB rays alone, so plenty of UVA damage can be done even if you do not get a sunburn. A number denotes SPF, and the most common ones are 15, 30, and 50.

The higher the SPF, the more UVB rays are blocked.

  • SPF 15 – Filters 93% of all incoming UVB rays
  • SPF 30 – Filters 97%
  • SPF 50 – Filters 98%

Notice that no sunscreen can block 100% of UVB rays. Although SPF 15 provides excellent protection, it may be best to use 30 or 50 if you have sensitive skin or for good measure. The extra couple of percentages may not seem significant, but do make a difference if your skin is exposed to the sun for hours and hours.

The SPF number is also a theoretical factor of how long the sunscreen can prevent reddening. For example, if it takes 10 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, then using a SPF 15 sunscreen prevents reddening 15 times longer, or about 2.5 hours.

Regardless of the SPF used, sunscreen should be thoroughly reapplied to your skin every two hours and more frequently if you swim or excessively sweat.

What is Multi-Spectrum or Broad Spectrum Protection?

These labels indicated that some UVA protection is provided, but there is no consensus on how much protection is provided. Although it is best to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection, keep in mind that these labels are purely for marketing effect.

Sunscreen and Skin Protection Guidelines

  • Seek shaded between the hours of 10am to 4pm
  • Apply 1 ounce, or a shot glass full, of sunscreen to your entire body 20 minutes before going outside. Reapply every 2 hours or immediately after getting out of the water or if you excessively sweat
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of 6 months
  • Cover up exposed skin, wear a hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, and do not burn. Skin cancer is more likely to develop if you have burned.
  • Examine your skin monthly and professionally by your physician yearly