A Guide to Sunscreen

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A Guide to Sunscreen.

Ever since you were an child, you’ve been told that sunscreen is essential protection against any type of sun exposure. Of course these days, with prices that’ll make your skin itch, it’s no wonder some people prefer to take their chances without it despite the warning signs that it’ll come back to bite them.

How does sunscreen work?

Most sunscreens are made from chemicals and minerals combined to work at blocking UVA and UVB rays. They do this through a natural oil which is heavy enough to stay on the body without too easily washing off. There are various ingredients in a bottle of sunscreen, but there are several you should avoid as they can be bad for your body, the environment, or both!

These ingredients can be:

When should I apply sunscreen?

Experts tell us we it should be applied around 15 to 30 minutes before we head out into the sun. This is the amount of time it takes for the skin to absorb your sunscreen and start protecting you. Don’t forget essential areas such as hands and feet, tips of the ears and areas harder to reach on your own. Scalps are also the most ignored areas of the body as well. Health professionals report many cases of skin cancer around the face, which suggest this is another area some people ignore. This might be because some think cosmetics or everyday creams that claim to offer SPF in them will work just as well – they don’t! The SPF, UVA and UVB protection in these products are minimal, if anything. The answer is to put on your moisturizer first, and then your sunscreen, and any makeup last. A great tip for the face is also to use a lip balm which has a high SPF because the lips are usually ignored when covering up in the sun and are considered a thinner area of skin.

SPF vs. UVA vs. UVB

SPF: This means Sun Protection Factor and it tells you the level of “protection” offered in relation to UVB rays, but not UVA.
UVA: This means Long-Wave Ultraviolet A. These are the rays that increase aging of the skin and encourage wrinkles.
UVB: This means Short-Wave Ultraviolet B. These are the rays that increase the burning of the skin.

Should I be re-applying my sunscreen?

If you’re out and about in the sun throughout the day, you’ll need to reapply your sunscreen at different times of the day. Experts once again say about every one to two hours is a good aim, but you’ll also need to rely on your common sense when you consider how you’re spending your day. For example, if you’ve been dipping in and out of the pool, you’ll obviously need to reapply more regularly.

What else can I do for effective sun protection?

Though sunscreen works and offers a level of protection better than that of no sunscreen, you shouldn’t only rely on sunscreen to protect you. Other factors include wearing sun protective clothing (especially hats) and aiming to stay out of the sun when it’s at its highest, usually around 11am to 3pm. Finally, check the date on the bottle. Sunscreen is only effective for around 3 years. So a bottle of sunscreen pulled out from the back of the cabinet, which has possibly sat there for 5 years or so, won’t quite cut it!

Chemical Vs. Physical sunscreen

Physical sunscreens protect your skin from the sun by deflecting or blocking the sun's rays. Uv Filters for Physical sunscreens include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Titanium dioxide protects against UVB rays, but not the full spectrum of UVA rays. Zinc oxide protects against the entire spectrum of UVB and UVA rays. Physical sunscreen starts protecting immediately upon application.
Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun's rays. Some chemical filters can scatter sun rays, but still mostly just absorb them. Chemical filters offer more coverage against UVA and UVB rays than physical sunscreens, but the range of protection will depend on the particular active and its stability. Avobenzone, for example, protects against the full spectrum UVA rays. Must wait 20 minutes after application for effective sun protection.