Soaking Up The Rays
Summer is in full swing now! We’re spending long days by the creek, in the pool, on the river and at the beach. People everywhere are watching their skin turn a “healthy” shade of tan (others are watching their skin turn a painful shade of pink). I got to see this in its full glory last weekend when I traveled to the beach with my church’s youth group. At the end of the day, teen after teen returned to the bus in varying shades of pink. (Okay — maybe an adult or two did as well.) Out of each of their mouths came, “But I put on sunscreen!” And they had, I’d seen some of them do it. So, how does this happen?
With skin cancer on the rise, sunscreen manufacturers have churned out more and more options for our delicate skin. The crazy fact is that most people don’t understand how to compare sunscreen and what they should actually look for. When looking at the aisle of sunscreen choices, not every sunscreen is created equal. You cannot just run into the drug store and grab the first thing that you see with SPF on it and expect it to be what you need. There’s also the human factor of us tending to not put on enough sunscreen or reapply it as needed.
Here are some sunscreen facts to keep in mind as you catch your rays this summer:
Understanding UV Rays. The whole point of wearing sunscreen is protection from the sun’s ultra violet (UV) rays. There are UVB rays, which are the rays that SPF protects us from and the rays that cause sunburn and some skin cancers. There are also UVA rays, which are not protected by SPF, do not cause our skin to become burned, but DO cause damage to our skin cells resulting in premature aging and some skin cancers. In the past, sunscreen ONLY protected against the burning UVB rays. But, now, there are more options, and you need to understand them before you purchase.
Sun Protecting Factor (SPF). The SPF is the measure of how effective a sunscreen is at preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays. If you’d normally burn in 10 minutes, using an SPF 15 will protect you for 150 minutes. Keep in mind that this equation ONLY works for SPF 15. This does NOT mean that an SPF 30 will protect twice as long. While an SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, the SPF 30 only increases to 97% and SPF 50 only increases to 98%. The higher the SPF, the smaller the increase in the effectiveness. The majority of people will be fine with an SPF of 15 if it is used correctly, although people with history of skin cancer or those who burn easily should seek out an SPF 30. And, anything over an SPF 50 is really just wasting your money.
Know Your UVA Fighting Ingredients. While the SPF in sunscreen won’t protect you from the aging and skin damaging effects of UVA rays, there are other ingredients in sunscreens that will. There’s no rating system for protection from the UVA rays, so you’ve got to pay attention to the ingredients. Your sunscreen should include at least one of the following ingredients to protect you against the UVA rays: ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide. Ecamsule is new to the American market and sold by L’Oreal. It is also very expensive. Avobenzone is what is in Neutrogena sunscreen — they call it Helioplex, and it’s an effective UVA blocker. Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are the ingredients used in sunscreens that you’ve seen in movies set in the 50s and 60s where people had white noses. Don’t worry, they’ve altered the ingredient so that it goes on clear now!
Water and Sweat Resistant. Notice that I didn’t say waterproof. No sunscreen is water proof. To be listed as water/sweat resistant, the SPF must remain effective for at least 40 minutes during water play or sweating. It should be reapplied regularly throughout the day. At least every couple of hours and more often if you’re spending a lot of time in the water.
Kid Friendly Sunscreen. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping children under 6 months old out of the sun altogether. Though we commonly see sleeping babies under umbrellas and shade at the pool and beach, remember that the sun’s rays can reflect off of water and sand. Protect baby with hats and UV protecting swimsuits. Children over the age of 6 months need to be protected by sunscreens that are listed as PABA free, safe for children and contain an SPF 30.
Spray vs. Lotion. Although the sprays are much easier to put on, especially on our wiggling children, the Food and Drug Administration would like to caution consumers about depending on sprays. According to studies, most sun bathers do not put on enough of the spray products to get the full extent of the SPF coverage. You are more like to miss a spot when using the spray leaving areas of your skin exposed to the damaging UV rays. The FDA also cautions that these products are easily inhaled and at this time there are not studies on what this may do to our lungs over time. When we apply lotion, we tend to get more of the product on our skin, while also covering more completely. Whichever product you choose, remember that you should reapply your sunscreen often throughout the day!
It’s Not Just About Sunscreen. It’s important to remember that sun protection isn’t just about sunscreen. When going out in the sun, especially for long periods of time, we should consider wearing hats, sunglasses and SPF apparel along with our sunscreen to maximize our protection from the sun.
It’s a lot to consider, but the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend that you focus on 3 things: 1) Broad Spectrum Sunscreens that protect against BOTH UVA and UVB rays; 2) water resistant sun screens, and 3) an SPF 30. Look for the Skin Cancer Foundation seal of approval on your next purchase!