A friend of mine who is careful with her health was recently in Hawaii, but burned herself playing in the sun with her kids. She told me, “I wore SPF 30 the entire time! What did I do wrong?” Her glowing (red-hot glowing) skin reminded me that it is time for a sun safety primer.
The sun has two types of damaging radiation: UVA and UVB. UVA is responsible for tanning, wrinkling, and photoaging, but also increases your risk of skin cancer and melanoma. UVB is a key player for development of sunburns, skin cancer, and to a lesser degree, wrinkling. Sunscreens work to chemically absorb or physically reflect the sun’s harmful rays.
SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a number that can be used to roughly calculate how long you can stay in the sun and not sunburn. So if after 10 minutes your skin turns red, an SPF of 15 would theoretically let you stay out about 150 minutes before turning red.
But it is not that simple. SPF only refers to UVB rays and there is no clear rating for UVA. So you have to look carefully at the ingredients listed. In addition, a more expensive sunscreen will not be necessarily better. Consumer reports just came out with their top picks, all of which are pretty cheap and work well even after water immersion. Listed below, they include:
- Up & Up’s Sport Continuous SPF 30 (Target brand)
- Banana Boat Sport Performance SPF 30
- Coppertone Sport Ultra Sweatproof SPF 30
- CVS Fast Cover Sport SPF 30
So here are my Six Simple “Rules of Sun”:
1) Wear sunscreen every day. UVA and UVB is everywhere, yes, even in Oregon. SPF 15 for daily activities is good, 30 or 50 for sunny, outdoor conditions is better.
2) Look for a broad-spectrum sunblock that blocks both UVA and UVB. In addition, look for a combination of ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide. If you have concern about using any of these chemicals, opt for something natural but use clothing as added protection.
3) Stay out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM when the rays are most direct and harmful.
4) Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before getting into the sun and reapply every couple of hours or after swimming or sweating.
5) Wear a broad-brimmed hat (don’t forget those ears!) and sunglasses, but remember, look for sunglasses that protect also against both UVA/UVB. In addition, loose, dark clothing or clothing that is SPF rated provide excellent protection.
6) Avoid tanning beds. They are worse for you than the sun and increase your chance of skin cancer by 2x. And for melanoma, which is deadly, your chances are increased by a whopping 75% if you start tanning when young. Plus, you’ll look old and wrinkly much sooner than your paler pals.
So enjoy the Sun, but Save Your Skin!