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With a plethora of sunscreen lotions available on the market, it can be difficult to choose which one is right for you. Each sunscreen makes claims that are purely for marketing purposes, so by knowing the basics below, you’ll be able to decipher the facts from the fluff.
What is Sunscreen?
Sunscreen helps prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation rays, particularly UVA and UVB, from reaching and damaging the skin. UVB rays are the chief cause of redness and sunburns and damage the top layers of the skin.
UVA rays penetrate deeply into the skin and are responsible for prematurely aging skin by causing it to wrinkle and to become leather-like. UVA is the dominant tanning ray and accelerates the development of skin cancer, especially by intensifying the carcinogen effects of UVB rays. UVA rays account for 95% of the UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface and is the type of ray tanning booths emit, but with a dose 12 times more powerful than the sun.
What is SPF?
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays, not UVA rays, from damaging the skin. In simple terms, SPF prevents you from getting ‘burned.’ However, reddening” is caused to UVB rays alone, so plenty of UVA damage can be done even if you do not get a sunburn. A number denotes SPF, and the most common ones are 15, 30, and 50.
The higher the SPF, the more UVB rays are blocked.
Notice that no sunscreen can block 100% of UVB rays. Although SPF 15 provides excellent protection, it may be best to use 30 or 50 if you have sensitive skin or for good measure. The extra couple of percentages may not seem significant, but do make a difference if your skin is exposed to the sun for hours and hours.
The SPF number is also a theoretical factor of how long the sunscreen can prevent reddening. For example, if it takes 10 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, then using a SPF 15 sunscreen prevents reddening 15 times longer, or about 2.5 hours.
Regardless of the SPF used, sunscreen should be thoroughly reapplied to your skin every two hours and more frequently if you swim or excessively sweat.
What is Multi-Spectrum or Broad Spectrum Protection?
These labels indicated that some UVA protection is provided, but there is no consensus on how much protection is provided. Although it is best to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection, keep in mind that these labels are purely for marketing effect.
Sunscreen and Skin Protection Guidelines
Keeping your skin healthy during the winter can be as challenging as it is in the summer. Even though most of our skin is constantly covered during the cold winter months, little do we realize how many nutrients, moisture, and natural oils are being zapped out of our skin. As our hands and skin become dry, itchy, and cracked, we realize how difficult it can be to treat these winter skin symptoms. If untreated, dry skin my lead to dermatitis, which causes swelling and infection.
Here are some tips to help prevent and treat dry skin:
Indoor tanning exposes both UVA and UVB rays that damage the skin and can lead to cancer. People who begin tanning younger than the age of 35 have a 75% higher risk of developing melanoma.
Data courtesy of skincancer.org, cdc.gov, and melanoma.com.
Regular exposure to sunlight allows our skin cells to use UVB rays to synthesize vitamin D, a steroid vitamin that is important for a maintaining a strong immune system. Other benefits include:
However, with modern lifestyles that include more time indoors and scientists warning about the dangers of sun exposure and skin cancer, it is no surprise that most people are vitamin D deficient. Keep in mind that our skin makes vitamin D only when directly exposed to the sun, and skin exposed to sunshine indoors through a window will not produce vitamin D. Other factors such as cloudy days, smog, sunscreens, and having dark skin tone may reduce your body’s vitamin D synthesis.
Advocates of unprotected sun exposure promote 5-10 minutes of UV exposure from the sun 2-3 times a week so that the body can regularly synthesize vitamin D. However, dermatologists and skin cancer groups have strongly argued against unprotected sun exposure, since too much will damage skin cells, accelerate aging, and increase the risk of skin cancer.
So if unprotected sun exposure is too dangerous but yet our bodies need adequate amounts of vitamin D for good health, what is one to do?
Luckily, adequate amounts of vitamin D can be obtained from vitamin D fortified foods and dietary supplements, thus averting the need of dangerous UV exposure. Not many foods contain vitamin D, but the follow do:
Although vitamin D obtained from supplements are not as effective as naturally synthesized vitamin D by our body, it is a much safer and noncarcinogenic alternative to lying unprotected in the sun.