15 Jun Ultimate Guide to Sunscreen
Trying to find a sunscreen can be difficult. There are so many brand names and different claims that it’s easy to get lost. But the truth is you need to understand the basics of sunscreen to protect your skin. Only about 15% of men and 30% of women say they use sunscreen regularly. That means most people are not properly protecting themselves from harmful sun damage. To keep you protected, we’ve created a sunscreen guide. Get your sun protection questions answered.
Why do you need sunscreen?
Sun protection should be a part of your daily life. There are many ways to protect your skin from the sun. But sunscreen is one of the most important. Sunscreen absorbs or reflects sunlight to protect the skin from sunburn and aging. UV rays from sunlight can cause skin cancer, which is the most common cancer in the United States. Not only does unprotected skin increase your risk of cancer, it can also prematurely age skin. Everyone’s skin ages as you get older. It’s natural. But unprotected sun exposure can quicken skin aging and make it more pronounced.
What does SPF mean?
When it comes to sunscreen, you might be familiar with SPF. It means Sun Protection Factor, which is a relative time the sunscreen will protect skin from the sun’s rays. SPF is relative because those time estimates are under perfect conditions. In other words, you can’t predict exactly how long you’ll have protection. This is because you may be sweating or swimming or some of your sunscreen may rub off. People have different skin types, which can also affect how long sunscreen lasts. Because of this, it’s best to apply sunscreen every 30 minutes or so when you’re outside.
Our patients often ask what SPF they should use. For proper sun protection, we recommend you use a sunscreen with a minimum 30 SPF. This level will protect you from the majority of the sun’s rays as long as it’s applied correctly. Generally, sunscreen in the SPF 30-50 range will block up to 98% of the sun’s rays. Yet, if you have fair skin or certain conditions, you may need prescription sunscreen.
What is chemical and physical sunscreen?
Have you heard the terms physical and chemical applied to sun block? The differences are in the formulas, but one is not necessarily better than the other. It will depend on your skin type and sun exposure.
- Physical sunscreen contains active minerals. These minerals sit on the skin to protect it against the sun. This type of sunscreen usually leaves a white cast—think of the “white nose” lifeguard effect. The active ingredients are usually zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Because it sits on top of the skin, it begins working immediately when applied.
- In contrast, chemical sunscreens create a chemical reaction with the sun’s rays on the skin. Before rays can penetrate skin, the chemicals convert them into heat, releasing them from the skin. Chemical sun block is usually made of carbon-based materials. You need to wait at least 15 minutes before sun exposure if you’re using a chemical sunscreen.
What does broad-spectrum mean?
We always suggest our patients use an SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen. When we say “broad-spectrum,” we’re referring to the sunscreen’s ability to protect from both UVA and UVB rays. Ultraviolet waves are radiation wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. These are the kinds of light the sun emits. In sunlight, there are both UVA and UVB rays.
- UVA (or Ultraviolet-A) are the longest wavelengths to come through the atmosphere. They are the rays responsible for skin aging like wrinkles. Because they are the longest wavelength, they can penetrate deep into the skin.
- UVB (or Ultraviolet-B) rays don’t penetrate as deep into the skin. But these are the rays responsible for sunburns. The atmosphere absorbs some UVB rays. But most make it through to the surface, where they can cause sunburns.
Originally, sunscreen only protected against UVB rays. This is because UVB rays caused the visible damage to skin (sunburns). However, people began to understand that UVA rays also caused harmful damage. This is when “broad-spectrum” sunscreen was created. It is now the standard for sun protection.
Where should you apply sunscreen?
You should apply sunscreen to your body every day, everywhere. This will help protect your skin from the sun for even small amounts of exposure. Yet, we know that only a fraction of people wear sunscreen daily. If you’re in the sun, you need to have sunscreen on all exposed parts of your body. Even the easy to forget places like your scalp, hands and ears. Your lips can also be sun damaged and need proper protection, as well.
Also, you should wear sunscreen year-round. Even if you’re not outside in warm weather, you can still get a sunburn. This is especially true in winter, when the sun can reflect off of white snow and cause sunburn. Even driving in your car, you can get a sunburn through your window. If you need help remembering your sunscreen, many moisturizers have built-in SPF.
Which type of sunscreen is best?
There are many different kinds of sunscreen. The one that’s right for you will depend on your skin and your activity level. For example, some may stay on better while you’re sweating or swimming. You may try different brands, too. If you have sensitive skin, you may try brands like CeraVe, Cetaphil or Vannicream.
- Spray sunscreen can be good if you’re in a hurry or are trying to apply sunscreen to children. However, it can be easy to miss parts of your skin, which can give you a streaky sunburn. Make sure you apply enough and apply it evenly.
- Sunscreen sticks are usually smaller and easy to carry around. Because they’re small, they’re not ideal for full body protection. But they can work well on your face, especially around your eyes.
- Lotion and cream sunscreens work well for dry skin. You can apply sun lotion on the whole body. If you need extra moisture and sun protection, try a moisturizing sunscreen.
- Gel sunscreen can also be applied to the entire body. It can work well for hairy areas (like the legs, chest and back), since it absorbs well.
Ultimate sunscreen guide
We know sunscreen can be confusing. But we hope you can use this guide to inform you and keep your skin protect year-round. Remember, we recommend a 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen every day. It’s important to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Select the sunscreen that works best for your skin and activities. If you’re unsure what skin type you have or have any skin concerns, you should see your dermatologist. To schedule with Loven Dermatology today, please call 615.859.7546.
At Loven Dermatology, we are passionate about providing our patients with high-quality, individualized dermatological care and treatment. Our providers offer advanced, personalized care for a wide range of hair, skin and nail conditions. Please call us at 615.859.7546 for more information or to schedule your appointment.