Avoid Sunburn and Skin Damage - Free Sunscreen Guide

With hundreds of sunscreen products on the market, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when deciding which one to purchase. Understanding the differences between sunscreens will help you to narrow down your choices depending on the activities you will be taking part in.

What is SPF and which one should you use?

SPF stands for sun protection factor and refers to how much longer your skin will take to burn with the product on vs. without. For example, if you are wearing SPF 15, it should take 15 times longer for your skin to burn compared to the length of time it would take for you to burn without any sunscreen on. Or if you’re wearing SPF 30, it should take 30 times longer for your skin to burn.

SPF 15: If you are planning to spend most of the day inside, SPF 15 should be sufficient. You can find this level of protection in many make ups and moisturizers. SPF 15 will protect your skin from approximately 93 percent of UVB rays.

SPF 30: If you plan on spending time outside, you will want to wear a sunscreen with an SPF 30, at minimum. These products will protect against 97 percent of UVB rays.

SPF 50: If you’ll be at the beach, enjoying outdoor sporting events, camping, hiking, boating, etc. and/or if you are very fair-skinned or have a history of or are at higher risk for skin cancer, you will want to opt for an SPF 50 sunscreen or higher. SPF 50 offers protection from 98 percent of UVB rays.

SPF 100: A triple-digit SPF sunscreen protects skin from 99 percent of UVB rays.

How often should you reapply sunscreen?

How often you reapply your sunscreen should be based upon the activities you are participating in and does not correlate to SPF at all. The general rule is to reapply every two hours when you are outside and every four hours when you are inside. If you are sweating a lot or swimming, you should reapply more often, including every time you get out of the water.

What type of sunscreen should you be using?

There are three categories of sunscreen to select from:

  • Mineral (physical) sunscreens: The active ingredients in mineral sunscreens are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which work to block the sun's rays. These products are best for people with sensitive skin or conditions such as allergies and eczema.

  • Chemical sunscreens: Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun's rays and releasing them. These are less likely to leave a white cast; however, studies have shown that they are harmful to the coral reefs. So, if you will be spending time in the ocean, you may want to opt for a mineral sunscreen.

  • Hybrid sunscreens: These sunscreens contain both chemical and mineral active ingredients.

What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

UVA stands for Ultraviolet A.
These rays cause tanning but also inflict deep damage on the skin, including cancer and signs of aging. Although they are slightly less intense compared to UVB rays, they penetrate the skin more deeply, causing damage to the cells on the innermost part of the top layer of skin, where most skin cancers occur. UVA radiation is the most common type of light used in tanning beds, which we now know are not safe to use. Up to 95 percent of the UV radiation that reaches the earth is UVA. These rays maintain a consistent strength during daylight hours throughout the year. Over our lifetime, we are all exposed to a high level of UVA rays. UVA rays cannot be filtered and are able to penetrate cloud cover and windows.

UVB stands for Ultraviolet B.
These rays generally cause surface-level damage to the skin, including suntan, sunburn, and blistering. The intensity of UVB rays varies, but they are strongest at high altitudes or on reflective surfaces like snow or ice. UVB rays can be filtered and cannot penetrate glass.

When selecting a sunscreen, make sure that it is broad spectrum, which means that it protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays.

Now that you have a better understanding of sunscreen, you are better equipped to choose the best products for your lifestyle and activities.

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