One thing is for certain: there’s no shortage of sun protection products and promises on the market these days. But how do you wade through the plethora of information and medical jargon to choose the formula that is right for you? What is the difference between SPF, UVA, and UVB? What does it matter?
It turns out, it does matter, quite a bit. However, this is only part of the picture: choosing the correct sunscreen is important, but as you’ll see, even more important is using it correctly.
Here’s some information to help you protect your skin from damage, aging, and potential skin cancer.
What’s with the acronyms?
UVB stands for Ultraviolet B radiation and these are rays that cause topical sunburn. UVA stands for Ultraviolet A and are the rays that penetrate deep into the skin and cause age-related damage (not sunburn) and wrinkles. It’s important to know that BOTH can cause skin cancer. Any sunscreen you use should have broad spectrum protection, which means it will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF refers to Sun Protection Factor – this number refers to the amount of time you can stay in the sun before you start to burn. Sounds simple, but it isn’t. The number on the bottle is not the number of minutes before your skin starts to burn, but a more personal indication of how long you personally can stay in the sun before you burn. So, if you begin to burn within 10 minutes, SPF 30 provides 30 times the protection of no sunscreen, so you could stay in the sun 30 times longer (or 300 minutes) before you start to burn.
As mentioned above, this is assuming you applied the sunscreen correctly! Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and can (and should be) applied under make-up. You need to use the equivalent of a full shot glass for your entire body and a quarter size dollop for your face.
A few common misconceptions about sunscreen:
Your makeup contains SPF, so you think you don’t need additional protection: this is false! While many foundations and tinted moisturizers contain SPF, it isn’t enough to adequately protect your face. As mentioned above, you need at least a quarter size dollop for your face, and you most likely won’t be using that amount of tinted moisturizer, foundation or other product that contains sunscreen, so make sure you apply the appropriate amount of sunscreen prior to your make-up.
You work in an office, so you don’t think you need sunscreen: this is false! Every time you step outside you are exposed to ultraviolet rays that cause skin damage. UVA rays also penetrate glass, so it’s important to make sure you are properly protected while driving, sitting next to a window and even on an airplane (yes!).
It’s cloudy (or foggy), you don’t need sunscreen: this is false! Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays penetrate through the clouds and fog. Incorporate the sunscreen step into your daily morning beauty routine.
You wear a hat, sunglasses and sit in the shade, so you’re good to go: this is false! Sunlight and its’ harmful rays reflect off the sand, concrete, grass, and snow, so it’s important to ensure that all exposed body parts are protected. Sunlight can also penetrate light clothing, so a good habit is to apply sunscreen in the buff before you get dressed. This way, you are less likely to miss a spot. Don’t forget the back of your neck, ears, and lips!
You apply once and you’re done: this is false! Sunscreen wears off (see note above about SPF), and wears off faster when coupled with swimming, sweating and general activity (rubbing your skin, scratching an itch, putting on a sweater). Reapply often.
It’s also worth noting that sunscreen does expire! Keep an eye on the packaging, or tube, and note when it was initially opened. Many brands also stamp the expiration date on the crimped end of the tube, or underside of the bottle.
For more information on choosing a suncare product, check out this post!