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10 Important Things to Know About Sunscreen

It’s well known that wearing sunscreen prevents skin cancer, wrinkling and premature aging. The rays of the sun expose us to ultraviolet radiation. Sunscreen changes the way your skin responds to sunlight. The active ingredients in the lotion either absorb, reflect or scatter the UV radiation.

There are so many choices on the market that it can be confusing to know which one to buy. Few people know which sunscreen factors are effective and what sunscreen actually does.

1. Sunscreen is only the second line of defense

The most important thing to know about sunscreen is that it cannot offer 100% protection. It is equally important to spend time in the shade, wear protective clothing, UV blocking sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Another healthy sun behavior is to avoid the sun between 10am and 4pm when the UVB rays are most intense.

Choose clothes made of UV reflective materials. Bleached cotton and pastel shades might seem lighter to wear in the heat, but they actually absorb more UV radiation than other materials. Shiny materials and dark or bright colors reflect radiation better.

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2. What is SPF?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a measurement of sunburn protection from UVB rays. UVB rays are the rays that redden the skin and cause sunburn. The effectiveness of an SPF rating depends on how quickly your skin burns in the sun. What activities you do and the sun’s intensity also play a role. For example if your skin burns 10 minutes after being in the sun and you’ve applied sunscreen with SPF 15, you can stay in the sun for 15 times longer. In other words 15 x 10, or 150 minutes.

3. Choose 15-50 SPF

The Environmental Working Group’s guide to sunscreen recommends you choose an SPF between 15-50. An SPF higher than 50 is only marginally more effective. Numbers higher than 50 offer little additional protection and may have higher concentrations of irritating or even allergenic ingredients.

4. Reapplying is more important than the SPF number

Putting on sunscreen at the beginning of time spent outdoors is a good start, but it’s only effective protection if the sunscreen is reapplied. People forget that the SPF only has a limited amount of time it can protect your skin. Because people often don’t know how quickly their skin burns and can’t figure out the number of minutes the SPF offers protection, experts recommend reapplying sunscreen after 2 hours.

Sunscreen also rubs off after being wet, towel drying or through sweating. If you’re going to the beach or the pool, it’s worthwhile applying a water resistant sunscreen.

5. Don’t be afraid to apply generously

It’s also recommended that you apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside so that the active ingredients can be absorbed into the skin in time to work. It’s also vital to apply the lotion liberally. You should be applying at least 1 ounce, (or 2 tablespoons). Studies have found that people rarely apply enough lotion to reach the SPF rating on the bottle.

6. Avoid sprays or powders

When buying sunscreen, choose lotion. Researchers have found powders are ineffective while using sprays is problematic because there are the concerns of inhaling the fumes and often, an inadequate amount of spray is applied.

7. Sunscreen doesn’t always protect against UVA rays

SPF only refers to UVB rays, which burn the skin. UVA rays are more prevalent and can penetrate deep into your skin. UVA rays can penetrate clouds and glass, and don’t weaken when the sun lowers. When choosing a sunscreen be wary of the term broad spectrum. To ensure your sunscreen is protecting you against UVA rays you need to read the label. It’s the ingredients that count. Look for stabilized avobenzone, ecamsule (a.k.a. Mexoryl), oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide.

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8. Avoid sunscreen with added Vitamin A

This will be labelled as “retinyl palmitate” on your sunscreen bottle. Studies have observed that vitamin A in sunscreen speeds up skin tumor growth when exposed to sunlight. Other similar ingredients with Vitamin A might be labelled retinoic acid, retinyl lineolate and retinyl acetate. This can also be found in lotions, lip products, and other leave-on cosmetics.

9. Try some natural ways to avoid sunburn

Some food nutrients offer skin protection. One such nutrient is astaxanthin. This is an antioxidant that protects against UVA. Applying topical green tea extract to the skin can also offer some UV protection. Eat foods rich in Omega 3, such as fish. These can help prevent skin cancer development.

10. Don’t buy sunscreen combined with bug repellent

Some cosmetic companies sell lotions or sprays that combine bug spray and sunscreen. This is problematic because sunscreens often have ingredients that enhance penetration. This leads to the danger of the pesticides, which scare off the bugs, being absorbed into your skin.

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