Most people know of the importance of sunscreen and sun protection, but with so much conflicting information, it’s hard to understand exactly what’s what – so we’ve created this quick guide to get you and your skin through the summer.
UVA vs UVB Rays: The first thing to know is that not all rays are created equal, however, both have links to cancer. UVA rays are also linked to aging and wrinkles, while UVB rays are linked with sunburns (think A=aging and B=burning). While all sunscreens provide some UVB ray protection, not all sunscreens protect from UVA rays. To protect yourself from both, check the label for:
- “Broad-band spectrum” – means that both rays are covered
- “If used as directed with other sun protection measures, this product reduces the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging, as well as helps prevent sunburn.”
- “Zinc Oxide” and “Avobenzone” in the ingredients – will specifically protect from UVA
Additionally, something else to keep in mind is that sunscreen less than SPF 15 will not protect you from both rays; the label will likely state something along the lines of ‘doesn’t protect from skin cancer.’ Avoid products with this disclaimer.
SPF: stands for “Sun Protection Factor” and refers to how much protection you get from UVB rays (not UVA). Typically, the higher the number, the longer the protection; HOWEVER, studies are showing that greater than SPF 50 might not have any added benefit and could actually be exposing individuals to more chemicals. Additionally, there is a false sense of security with higher SPFs which has been linked with poor re-application habits. As a general rule of thumb, you should apply sunscreen 15-30 mins before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours. If you are sweating a lot or swimming, you should reapply more often.
UV Index: This measures the strength of the UV rays on a particular day. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, knowing how to read and apply the scale can help protect you:
- Green 0-2: Low danger for the average person: Wear sunglasses on bright days; if you burn easily, cover up and use SPF 30+ sunscreen; beware of bright surfaces (i.e. snow, water, sand)
- Yellow 3-5: Moderate risk from unprotected sun exposure: stay in shady areas during midday; wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats; use 30+ SPF every 2 hours; beware of bright surfaces (i.e. snow, water, sand)
- Red 6-7: High risk of harm to skin and eyes from unprotected exposure: Precautions are the same as above.
- Blue 11 or more: Extreme risk to skin and eyes, can burn within minutes: Precautions are the same as above.
Sunscreen Should NOT be Your Only Protection: Yes, sunscreen is great and all, but you should be doing other things to protect your skin from harmful rays such as:
- Avoid prime sun hours
- Wear protective clothing; even just a t-shirt can have the equivalent of SPF 5 protection
- Wear wide brim hats
- Protect your eyes with sunglasses
- Avoid direct sunlight and stay in the shade when possible
- Check the UV Index
- Follow the shadow rule (if your shadow is taller than you, UV exposure likely to be lower, if it’s shorter than you, UV exposure is high and you should take caution).
Swimming and sweating: While there are some water-resistant products on the market as mentioned above, you should be reapplying more frequently if you’re sweating or swimming. Read the label for more details as to how often you should reapply the water-resistant products.
What about Cloudy Days?: Yes, you should still be wearing sunscreen on cloudy days. The clouds still let in 80% of harmful rays through, leaving you exposed to damage.
Monitoring the weather, staying on top of sunscreen use, and following these tips will help keep you and your loved ones safe this summer!