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Skin Cancer Awareness month is coming to an end, but the long days of sun exposure pool-side or on the beach have just begun. You’ve heard over and over again you should wear sunscreen and why, but here are a few tips to get the best results and choose the right one for you!

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Look for a “broad spectrum” sunscreen. (i.e. one that protects against UVB and UVA rays. (UVB are the rays that burn— UVA are the rays that lead to aging! We definitely want protection from both!)

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For the best protection, slather on SPF 30.
An SPF rating of 15 means 93% of UVB rays are blocked and some UVA rays are blocked, while an SPF of 30  provides 97% UVB protection and about 30% more of the UVA rays. SPF 50 provides about 98% protection of UVB rays, marginally more UVA rays–and sunscreens higher than that go up just a fraction of a percent–no sunscreen blocks 100% of either UVA or UVB rays. In 1999 the FDA recommended sunscreens higher than an SPF 30 be labeled “30+” to prevent people from spending more time in the sun because they thought they had double the protection with a higher SPF number. Unfortunately, it was only a “recommendation”, and many companies get away with charging more for higher SPF values. (I typically notice a $1 difference between SPF 45 and SPF 55 in drugstores!)

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There are two different kinds of sunscreen: physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Don’t let the word “chemical” scare you–they aren’t necessarily harmful, they just work in a different way.

A physical sunscreen physically creates a barrier over your skin. Think of it like when you see a woman asleep on the beach with her hand on her stomach—you just KNOW when she wakes up she will have a white silhouette of her hand where it was resting–it also physically created a barrier in this example. Physical sunscreens work in the same way by leaving a film or barrier on the skin, which is why they are also typically a little harder to rub in, and can at times feel heavy. Many times foundation that has sunscreen built-in contains a physical sunscreen.

You should use a physical sunscreen if:

  • You need immediate protection. (You like to apply just before getting into the pool, or before a run first-thing in the morning)
  • Your skin is particularly sensitive.

To identify a physical sunscreen look for ingredients: Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. For instance, Try Skin Within Sun Protect & Repair SPF 40+.

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A chemical sunscreen, absorbs into the skin, and when stimulated by the sun creates a chemical reaction that neutralizes the damaging UV rays. Because it absorbs into the skin it typically feels more lightweight and allows makeup to be blended easily on top–however, the downside is that it takes about 30 minutes to start working, so you can’t apply it poolside and expect total protection—put it on before going outdoors for the best results.

You should use a chemical sunscreen if:

  • You prefer a lightweight feel.
  • You like layering it under makeup. (so it doesn’t reflect light in photos making your face look lighter than your body, even though it looks OK in person)

To identify a chemical sunscreen look for ingredients: Avobenzone, Oxybenzone, Octinoxate, Octocrylene, Homosalate, Ethylhexyl, or Methoxycinnamate.

Shy away from PABA– a very controversial chemical sunscreen that has reported side effects.

Many sunscreens combine both physical and chemical sunscreens to get the benefits both provide—by mixing the two, they can provide SOME protection right away but still keep it feeling light, easy to rub in, etc.

[For instance, Natura Bisse’s Cure Sheer Cream (SPF 20), C+C Vitamin Fluid (SPF 10), C+C Vitamin Cream (SPF 10), Oil-Free SPF 30, and Luminous Shield SPF 50, as well as Darphin’s Vital Protection SPF 50 ALL combine both physical and chemical sunscreens.]

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Use a sunscreen even under makeup with an SPF! We don’t always use enough makeup to get the full protection indicated by the SPF–especially if you only like to cover part of your face with foundation, you’re still left with exposure on your neck, chest, hairline, and ears. For a more thorough application, put on your sunscreen first. Then finish with your makeup.

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In order to get the full SPF protection, the average person needs to use about 1 oz of sunscreen to cover their entire body (about a shot glass’ worth). So that bottle you picked up that has 3.5 oz? It should only cover 3&1/2 applications for just ONE PERSON. So a family of 4 should have no problem taking care of one bottle per day at the beach. If you use less, you’ll still get protection, but you may only get a protection of 15 from your SPF 30 if you skimp, or a protection of 5 to 8 from your SPF 15!

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Once you open a bottle of sunscreen, it only has a shelf-life of about 12 months. So that HUGE bottle you bought at Costco for your family vacation last summer won’t provide reliable protection this summer. But hopefully you used it up anyway in the fall and winter’s outdoor activities (soccer, football, hiking, biking, and skiing–the sun’s rays are still strong even in cooler months!)

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There’s no such thing as “healthy color” from the sun. Even the smallest change in skin tone actually indicates damage from the sun. It’s a reaction known as post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH for short) and it stimulates the melanin in your skin to try and build up it’s DEFENSES for the future–this is why after you have a little bit of a tan, it becomes harder to burn. With prolonged exposure, though, these melanocytes can over-multiply causing skin cancer or sun spots.

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Waterproof sunscreen is a myth. The FDA now requires labels to indicate they are water resistant instead and must be tested to last 40-80 minutes when test areas are completely submerged in water. So if you’re in the pool or ocean, or working up a sweat outdoors–you’ll still want to re-apply every hour or so to keep it from wearing off.

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Even though technically SPF 15 means it protects you from burning 15 times longer than you would without sunscreen–you still have to reapply every one or two hours. It wears off over time….Keep reapplying, and try staying indoors during noon and 2 pm when the sun is it’s strongest. Of course, it’s also not a bad idea to wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades your face (as well as the back of your neck) and sunglasses to protect your eyes.

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Many lipsticks, although not SPF-rated, have an SPF. Titanium Dioxide is a very common ingredient in lipstick. Slick one of these or a lip balm with an SPF on to protect your kisser!

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If you end up with a burn anyway–(it happens even to the most careful!), try reading my tips for soothing sunburn here! I bet you haven’t heard of all of these remedies before either!…

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