Everyone should wear sunscreen every day, no matter what color your skin is. Your skin is your body’s largest organ and it makes sense to offer it as much protection as possible. Even on overcast days, the radiation in the sun’s rays can cause damage so wearing sunscreen is one of the best ways to make sure that your skin stays looking youthful and healthy. Using sunscreen to ward off the sun’s damaging rays reduces the risk of skin cancer, but it also helps reduce the signs of aging, including fine lines, wrinkles and sunspots. So how does it work? Keep reading to find out.
Types of UV Rays
Some basic understanding of the sun’s rays will help you understand sunscreen. The sun’s rays are made up of light and radiation (heat). There are three types of radiation: visible rays, infrared rays and ultraviolet rays. It is ultraviolet radiation that is the subject of the science of sunscreen.
There are three types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC. It is mostly UVA rays that reach the Earth although some UVB gets through. UVC radiation rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and do not reach the ground.
UV radiation exposure alters the DNA of your skin cells and when damaged cells replicate you can end up with cancerous growths or other cellular damage.
Although they have the longer wavelength of the three types of UV radiation, the weakest rays are UVA. They can penetrate the outer layer of your skin and move into the deeper layers. Not only can this kind of light cause age spots, wrinkles, fine lines and other adverse skin reactions but it can cause genetic damage that can lead to cancer.
UVB rays are shorter, but can also damage your skin at the cellular level, altering DNA and leading to changes that can increase the risk of skin cancer. UVB rays also cause sunburn. This is true for any skin type or color, including darker skin.
Keep in mind that the sun’s rays can penetrate cloud coverage, so you need skin protection even if the sun isn’t shining brightly. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of wearing sunscreen all the time when you are outside.
The time of day also plays a role in the risk of sun damage. In general, the hours between 10 am and 4 pm are when the sun’s rays are the most damaging. It pays to limit your time outdoors during these hours, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend time safely. Just be extra diligent about applying sunscreen during periods of time when the UV rays are most intense.
When you choose a sunscreen, you need to pay attention to the active ingredients in the formula. Their main job is to filter out the ultraviolet light.
Types of Sunscreen
It’s quite a bewildering sight when you stand in front of a drugstore or supermarket shelf looking for sunscreen. Not only are there masses of different brands, but there are different SPF factors (more on this later), formulations for different skin types and even different methods of application. Essentially though, there are two types of sunscreen.
- Chemical Sunscreen
- Mineral sunscreen – also known as physical sunscreen.
The difference lies in how they filter UV rays.
Chemical sunscreen applies a layer of active ingredients to the skin as a barrier to UV rays (i.e. the chemical filters absorb UV rays and alter them to be less damaging)
Mineral sunscreen creates a physical barrier that reflects UV rays away from the skin.
You may also hear the term broad-spectrum sunscreen. This means it is designed to provide skin protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.
There is a healthy debate in the scientific and dermatological communities about which type of sunscreen is best. There are many, many factors involved including the efficacy of active ingredients, skin type, skin sensitivity, ingredient stability and degradation, the preferred method of application and even environmental issues such as being marine-friendly.
If after reading this article you are still unclear, it is best to read accredited sources (such as cancer organizations or medical websites) or consult with a dermatologist (or retailer of high-quality suncare products)
Ingredients in Sunscreen
The ingredients you will find in your sunscreen depend on what type you choose.
Physical sunscreen typically contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as its active ingredient. Active sunscreen ingredients in chemical sunscreens tend to be aminobenzoic acid, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone. You may have heard that oxybenzone is a hormone disruptor and can actually cause cancer. This claim has been disputed and there’s no conclusive evidence that it can be harmful.
The active ingredients generally make up 20 percent of the sunscreen’s formulation. These are the ingredients that filter and/or block the UV light given off by the sun. Another 55 percent is made up of stabilizer ingredients. These are what create the consistency of the sunscreen and keep it from spoiling. Sensory enhancers make up another 23 percent of the product. These are ingredients that provide a fragrance or scent to the product. The final 2 percent of the formula may be extras like blue-light protection.
Zadeh MD Skin Sun Defense SPF 45 is a high-factor, lightweight, broad-spectrum sunscreen that is a botanical-based formula containing knotweed extract, zinc oxide and octinoxate to block and scatter the damaging UV rays. It also contains a potent addition of Vitamins B3 and E that have excellent anti-aging properties.
If you have sensitive skin or are allergic to any ingredients, read the labels carefully before you use sunscreen. This ensures that you get the most out of the product without suffering any allergic reactions or other negative side effects with use.
Sun Protection Factor
SPF, sun protection factor, refers to how much of the UV rays are filtered out and what level of protection the sunscreen provides. The SPF for any product that features sun-blocking ingredients is indicated on the packaging by a number, usually from 5 to 60. Higher number SPF products provide a greater level of protection against radiation and skin damage.
The most logical way to assess SPF is as a factor of time. The SPF number is an indication of how long before UV radiation would begin to burn your skin when you wear the sunscreen versus how long if you don’t wear sunscreen. So, with SPF 30, you can spend 30 times as long in the sun without incurring sunburn than if you don’t wear sunscreen.
Do not make the mistake of thinking that the protection provided by higher SPFs increases exponentially. SPF60 does not provide double the protection of SPF30. The SPF factor is specific to UVB rays.
SPF 30 protects you from 97% of UV rays, while SPF 50 from 98% and after that, the incremental increase becomes negligible.
Another time factor to consider is that the efficacy of the UV filters in any mineral or chemical sunscreen decreases with time. Regardless of brand, type or SPF, you should reapply sunscreen every two hours.
How to Apply Sunscreen
It is important to wear sunscreen properly. The general rule of thumb is that you should apply a shot glass worth of sunscreen over any exposed skin before going outside. Wearing plenty of sunscreen is important because it creates the barrier that you need to prevent many types of skin cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Proper coverage is also important for maximum protection. Be sure you spread the sunscreen evenly across the surface of your skin, extending a bit under your clothing to protect your skin if your clothes shift with a high outdoor activity level.
It’s also vital to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and every time you go swimming or into the ocean or a pool (even if your sunscreen is described as being waterproof).
These days you can purchase sub-protective clothing. This is an excellent idea but you should always carry a bottle of sunscreen with you in case you want to take the clothing off.
Choosing the Right Sunscreen
With so many sunscreens on the market, it can be overwhelming to find the right one for you. There are several things to consider when you shop for sunscreen.
Start by looking for the right SPF – absolutely avoid any bottles of sunscreen that do not state the SPF. Preferably choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen and if you plan to go in the water, choose a water-resistant formula (but remember you still have to reapply after a swim).
You may need to submit to some trial and error to find the right sunscreen for you. It does not always follow the logic, for example, that if you have fair skin you burn and therefore must wear the highest SPF and vice versa for dark skin. Consider also any skin sensitivities. Zinc-oxide-based sunscreens are usually recommended for people with sensitive skin and young children.
Try a few products and see which you prefer. You’re more likely to wear sunscreen when you like the way it feels and when it’s not too much of a hassle to apply so keep that in mind as you make your choice.
As you get older, you may also benefit from adding cosmetic products to your routine that help block harmful UV light or that counteract the damage from the sun. That might be facial moisturizer or foundation. You get the benefits of sunscreen without compromising your beauty routine. Lip gloss is another product that might contain SPF.
Zadeh MD Skin Sun Defense Tinted SPF 45 is an excellent choice for everyday wear. Not only is it a lightweight, broad-spectrum, effective sunscreen, but being tinted, it also provides a healthy glow to the skin so that you don’t have to wear foundation on hotter days.
Keep in mind that sunscreen doesn’t last forever. Check all sunscreen containers for expiration dates. Expired sunscreen won’t offer as much protection because the ingredients start to degrade over time. If yours is too old, it’s time to buy a new bottle of sunscreen.
There are lots of options for sunscreen and you don’t need expensive sunscreens to benefit. Choose a product that fits in your budget with the other factors listed above. You will get the protection you need without spending more than you want to.
Skin cancer can be scary and one of the best steps you can take to prevent it is to wear sunscreen. Choosing the right product and wearing it correctly ensures that you get the best results from the product you use.