Yesterday was one of the most beautiful summer days at Delray Beach. There was a cool breeze, not a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining brightly. I quickly sprayed on some Neutrogena sunblock and laid down to bake. My boyfriend meticulously piled on his 70 SPF sunscreen and I laughed at the thick white layer on his skin that just didn’t seem to fade no matter how hard he rubbed it in.
Jeremy got the last laugh though. My face is bright red today and it hurts. In addition to not putting enough sunscreen on my face, I also missed random spots on my chest, arms and stomach.
After a bad sunburn a few weeks ago, Jeremy refuses to use that Neutrogena spray that I used. He now swears by the thick, sticky lotions with the highest SPF possible. Four, 8, 15, 30, 45, 70, SPF, UVA, UVB- WTF? What do all those numbers mean, and what should you consider when shopping for sunscreen? I always feel a little overwhelmed when trying to decide which one might be best for me, so I have done a little research to figure out what it all means.
We use sunscreen to block ultraviolet light from damaging the skin. There are two categories of UV light- UVB causes sunburn, and UVA has more long-term damaging effects on the skin, like premature aging. Too much sun exposure over time can take quite a toll, but sunscreen plays an important role in protecting your skin against sunburn, wrinkles, premature aging and skin cancer. It should be applied anytime you plan on being outdoors, even just for a little while. You don’t want to end up looking like this lady:
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, but the higher the number does not necessarily mean that it’s better. The SPF number is simply a standard for how long you can tolerate the sun without burning. For example, if you can stay in the sun for 10 minutes without burning, an SPF of 15 should allow you to spend 150 minutes out in the sun before burning. This is assuming that you are using the ideal amount of sunscreen, which is enough to fill a shot glass.
Before you grab your calculator and head to the beach, you should know that this equation is not always accurate and doesn’t cover everything. A higher SPF number may mean more sun-exposure time, but UVB absorption must be considered as well. People get confused because the absorption number does not increase exponentially with a higher SPF. For example, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93.3 percent of UVB rays, but an SPF of 30 absorbs 96.7 percent. The SPF number has doubled, but the absorption rate has increased by only 3.4 percent.
Because of this, according to the FDA, anything higher than 30 SPF is not much better than 30. The bottom line is that you should be wearing enough SPF 30 with broad-spectrum UVA/ UVB protection and reapplying often. Remember to reapply after going swimming or sweating a lot, because despite being advertised as waterproof, all sunscreens decrease in effectiveness when exposed to water.
Sunscreen use alone will not prevent all of the possible harmful effects of the sun. It is also important to limit your time in the sun and wear protective clothing and a hat to protect your face. Here are a few other random facts that will help you protect your skin:
- The sun’s rays are the strongest from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m, especially during the late spring and summer.
- Reflected glare from water and snow also can increase your exposure to UV radiation.
- Sunscreen typically maintains its strength for about 3 years. After that time period, it is less effective.
- Apply sunscreen at least a half-hour before you go outside.
- Up to 80% of your total lifetime sun exposure is likely to take place before you reach the age of 18.
- Make-up with SPF isn’t enough to protect your skin.
- Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. It accounts for nearly half of all cancers in the United States.
Stay safe, my friends!