Understanding Sunscreen- What You Should Look For

Woman Seated on Textile Applying Suncsreen

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Have you visited your local pharmacy lately? If so, you probably quickly realized that buying sunscreen can be confusing as there are so many choices. I have found myself standing in the sunscreen isles many times feeling lost. With all the sunscreen selections available, it can feel overwhelming what to purchase.

Do you buy the one with SPF 15 or 60?  How much should you apply?  And what exactly does “broad-spectrum” mean? 

In this article, you will get the answers as to what you should look for in a sunscreen:

1.  Broad-Spectrum

Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect your skin from the sun’s two main types of ultraviolet rays – UVA (the dominant tanning ray) and UVB (known to cause burning).  Neither one is safe though, as they both contribute to aging in your skin and eyes, as well as skin cancers. 

So if you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, you will be protecting your skin from burning, skin cancer, wrinkling, and other aging of the skin. 

2.  Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

The SPF refers to the level of blockage against UVB (it does not include UVA) rays that the sunscreen provides.  So the higher the SPF is, the longer you can stay in the sun before you burn.  For example, a SPF 30 means you can stay in the sun longer before you burn than if you are using a sunscreen with SPF 15.  However, this does NOT mean that you can stay in the sun twice as long.  Instead, it means that the SPF 30 would block out approximately 97% of the UVB rays, and a SPF 15 would block out approximately 94% of UVB rays.

If you are highly sensitive to the sun, then you will want to use sunscreen with higher SPF.  However, those sunscreens with SPF 100, for example, will not block 100% of the UVB rays.  No sunscreen does that.  Many physicians recommend their patients use products with SPF ratings of 30-45, if they will be spending extended time outdoors.  Products with SPF 15 can be effective for incidental sun exposure, and can be found in many face moisturizers. 

3.  Water Resistance

If you will be sweating outside or swimming, you want something that stays on your skin better, and that is less likely to drip in your eyes. 

Once you buy your sunscreen, there are a couple things that you need to know about its application:

1.  Slather It On

Most people do not put enough sunscreen on.  The SPF level you get from your sunscreen will depend on how thick you put on your sunscreen.  The less sunscreen you put on, the less protection your skin is actually getting.

A good guideline for adults is to use an ounce to cover the whole body.

2.  Put it on before you go outdoors

It takes time for the sunscreen to absorb into the skin and begin working properly.

3.  Reapply often

No matter what level of SPF you are using, you should always reapply your sunscreen every 90 minutes to two hours, or sooner if you have been sweating or swimming. 

Now that you know more about the safety of sunscreen and how it works, you can enjoy some time in the sun!

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