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Getting Down to the Nitty-gritty about Sunscreen

I damaged my skin tremendously as a teen and young adult. I sat out in my parents’ back yard at high noon for hours as UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays penetrated my skin. My skin was dry and I had freckles and sun spots everywhere. I went to a dermatologist when I noticed how dry my skin had gotten and the amount of sun spots I had. She examined my skin and told me that I needed to start using sun screen right away and stay in the shade. If I continued worshipping the sun like I had for so many years, I was a prime candidate for skin cancer. I was 25 when I first started using sunscreen.

Sunscreen

Buying and using sunscreen can be a confusing journey. Reading any label on a bottle of sunscreen can elicit questions that many people don’t know the answers to. Educate yourself and keep your skin healthy.

Simply putting on sunscreen is not enough to combat the sun’s rays. You need to be in the shade during the sun’s peak hours of 11am to 4pm. Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your head, hair and eyes.

Not all sunscreens are made alike. When you apply sunscreen, you’re being protected from UVB rays, but not always from UVA rays. Sunscreens help to filter the amount of UV rays, but they do not necessarily block all of them. SPF — sun protection factor — only factors in how well it will block UVB rays. SPF does not indicate how long you can stay out in the sun. SPF is determined by how long you’re able to expose yourself to the sun before getting burned as compared to how long you’re able to expose yourself to the sun’s rays without sunscreen. If you’re using SPF 15, it will take 15 times longer before experiencing any damage than someone who is not protected. You need to combat UVA rays also — that’s when you look for labels that read “sun block”. Look for sunblock that contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to block your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen labeled as “broad spectrum” helps protect you against both UVA and UVB rays. Try to use products that are at least SPF 15 or 30.

When you put sunscreen on in the morning, it will not protect you throughout the day. You need to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. If you take a shower, go swimming or experience perspiration, you need to apply sunscreen again.

Adding different sunscreen with varying SPFs will not add more sun protection. If your moisturizer has SPF 20 and then your mineral foundation has SPF 15, you do not get SPF 35. You are only protected by the highest amount of SPF you have applied. In this case, your SPF is 20.

Waterproof and water resistant sunscreen are not the same. There are quite a few sunscreen brands that claim that their product is waterproof. This is misleading since, at some point, the sunscreen will come off with water. Look for sunscreens that say “water resistant” instead where water does not immediately penetrate the sunscreen and the SPF remains intact for a considerable amount of time, usually 30 minutes.

Cloudy days or days spent inside an office doesn’t mean you should skip sunscreen. UVA and UVB rays are still present, even on cloudy days. As you spend time stuck in traffic in your car every day, UVA rays can easily penetrate through windows.

Apply a liberal amount of sunscreen at least 20 minutes before heading out. This will allow the sunscreen to work effectively. My dermatologist also told me that it’s a good idea to apply sunscreen one more time after the initial 20 minutes, especially if you’re at the beach or plan to stay outdoors for a significant amount of time. Be generous when applying your sunscreen; one thin coat isn’t going to cut it. Figure on using about one ounce — 6 teaspoons — of sunscreen for your entire body.

All skin colors are susceptible to skin damage and skin cancer. If your skin is dark, this does not exclude you from being effected by the sun’s rays. Although sunscreen will help reduce any damage from the sun, exposure can still bring sun spots and wrinkles your way.

Skin cancer can happen at any age. Make sunblock and sunscreen a part of your regular beauty routine and teach your children the benefits of these products. Healthy skin outweighs a tan any day.

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