Shining a Light on Sunscreen

There are very specific things we gather for a day at the pool, lake or beach. Most things we grab without much thought – sunglasses, sandals, towels, drinks – but the sunscreen options are always changing and might warrant some deciphering.

Any time of year, sun protection is an important part of skincare, but whenever we anticipate prolonged exposure it’s recommended to apply liberally, choose a higher SPF and perhaps choose a different category of sunscreen.

Here are some things to consider for summer sun protection:

UVA vs. UVB: The basics of sun protection are understanding the rays of the sun. Most of the ultraviolet radiation from the sun is absorbed by the ozone, but what gets through is UVA & UVB. UVB penetrates the top layer of skin, thus creating a sunburn, but UVA absorbs into deeper layers of skin and causes aging and cellular damage. Using a sunscreen that effectively blocks both is important to protection. Look for the words “broad spectrum” on the packaging.

Mineral Sunscreens: There are two types of sunscreens – mineral and chemical. Mineral sunscreens are made primarily of Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide. It does not absorb into the skin, sits on the top layer of the skin and deflects the sun’s rays. They tend to have a white cast and are noticeable when applied. Because they sit on top of the skin, they need to be reapplied often due to sweat, rubbing or water. Sport versions of mineral sunscreen are thicker and more resistant to sweat and/or water. Mineral sunscreens are sometimes considered a natural, safer choice for skincare and a better choice for the environment and marine life.

Chemical Sunscreens: These sunscreens absorb into deeper layers of skin. For this reason, it’s recommended to apply at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. Also, because of its absorption it doesn’t need to be reapplied as often. They work by absorbing the UVA & UVB rays and through a chemical reaction turning the rays into heat. The heat is then released from the skin. Because the rays do penetrate the skin there is still risk of damage and it can possibly cause hyperpigmentation. Chemical sunscreens are also known to clog pores and exacerbate skin issues like acne, rosacea and other sensitivities.

SPF: The SPF rating correlates to the amount of time being spent in the sun, not the amount of protection it provides. A lower SPF sunscreen applied properly is just as effective as a high SPF. No SPF is 100% effective. Also, higher SPF tends to be sticky and thicker so going with a lower SPF creates a more comfortable barrier. Especially if you’re choosing a sunscreen for everyday use with limited sun exposure.

Application: Available in different forms – spray, stick, gel and lotion – the lotion is most reliable and long-lasting. The stick form is good for applying to the face, nose, ears and smaller areas. Sprays provide lighter coverage, but still need to be applied properly. Spray at close range until skin glistens and follow manufacturer instructions for application and reapplying. Also, sprays should not be used on the face because it is not safe to inhale the ingredients.

Published 6/21/21

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