Sun Protection: What You Need to Know This Summer and Beyond

Many of us will splurge on a facial sunscreen (made by TIZO, Obagi, or Colorescience) but head straight to the drugstore for sunscreens that we use all over our bodies or on our kids. There are so many to choose from nowadays – practically a whole aisle – that we thought it’d be nice to layout some facts about sun protection to make it easier for you to choose which sunscreen would best fit your summer lifestyle.

What do sunscreens do?

Sunscreens are designed to help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching (and burning) the skin.  There are three categories of UV rays, depending upon their wavelength: UVA, UVB, and UVC.  We like to think of them as:

  • UVA rays are “Aging” rays: these give you lines, wrinkles, and sagging
  • UVB rays are “Burning” rays: these give you hyperpigmentation and sun spots
  • UVC rays are “Cancer” rays: these don’t often reach the earth because they are absorbed by the ozone layer, but the briefest exposure them can result in a burn and prolonged exposure can be fatal

What does the SPF rating mean?

To figure out which sunscreens will be best for yourself and your family, you have to understand the idea behind the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) rating.  It works like this: if your unprotected skin takes 20 minutes to start turning red, using a sunscreen with SPF 15 will theoretically prevent reddening 15 times longer (15 x 20 minutes = 300 minutes or 5 hours).  Another way to look at it is:

  • SPF 15 filters out approximately 93% of all incoming UVB rays
  • SPF 30 filters out about 97%
  • SPF 50 filters out about 98%

Note that there is not an SPF that blocks out 100% of the rays.  If you are using a higher SPF (50+) it does not necessarily mean you will receive optimum protection, especially if you are in the sun for more than two hours, are sweating excessively, or are swimming. The key to prevent sun damage to your skin is to reapply, reapply, and reapply sunscreen throughout the day as well as using a physical block such as clothes, an umbrella, and a wide-brimmed hat.

Common Questions Associated with Sunscreen

I never lie out in the sun, I drive to work in a car, and work indoors.  Why do I need sunscreen?

  • More than half of UV exposure is “incidental” meaning that it happens when you are walking to your car, sitting in a car (UVA rays go through glass), taking the trash from your house to the curb, or walking from your car to a building. This exposure can add up over time and result in deeper wrinkles and hyperpigmentation.

Does sunscreen cause a Vitamin D deficiency?

  • Dermatologists believe that using sunscreen does not cause a Vitamin D deficiency.  If you believe that you are lacking in Vitamin D see your physician. S/he can determine if there is a deficiency through a blood test and give you proper direction on the amount of Vitamin D supplements to take.

I hear that 80% of sun exposure is from when you are a child, so what is the point of wearing sunscreen now?

  • A more recent study showed that we get less than 25% of our total sun exposure by age 18.  In fact, it has been shown that men over 40 spend the most time outdoors and get the highest annual doses of UV rays.

Do I need to wear sunscreen when it’s cloudy or cold outside?

  • Yes you do.  Up to 40% of the sun’s UV rays reach the earth on a completely overcast (cloudy) day.

Do I have to wear sunscreen year round?

  • Wearing sunscreen year round is the best way to prevent sun damage to your skin.  At Blu Cocoon, we always recommend wearing sunscreen year round.

New Sunscreen Labeling Rules Issued by the FDA

The FDA issued new regulations on sunscreen labeling and most sunscreen manufacturers will have to implement these by mid-Deceember 2012.  These rules will empower customers to more easily identify sunscreens that offer safe and effective protection. The main points of the FDA’s sunscreen rules (source: Skin Cancer Foundation):

  • Sunscreens may be labeled “broad-spectrum” if they provide protection against both UVA and UVB radiation according to FDA-sanctioned test methods.
  • Only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher may state that they protect against skin cancer if used as directed with other sun protection measures.
  • The terms “sunblock”, “sweatproof”, and “waterproof” will no longer be allowed on sunscreen labels.
  • A company cannot claim that its sunscreen products provide sun protection for more than two hours without submitting test results to prove this.

Remember, it’s never too late to make sun protection part of your everyday routine.  Your skin will thank you!

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