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Sunscreen: A year-round product

As summer winds down and temperatures drop, it might seem like it’s time to put the sunscreen away, but that’s not the case. UVB rays that can cause sunburn and cancer are a potential hazard year-round and must be taken seriously even in the winter months. UVB rays can be present whether it’s sunny or cloudy and provide a constant threat. We know sunscreen plays a pivotal role in protecting us, but choosing a specific brand or deciding what SPF is right for you still remain a challenge. In this week’s Health Journal VII, we are going to dive in and help answer some of those questions about sunscreen and hopefully make your next trip to the sunscreen aisle just a little bit easier.

Sunscreen is a year-round product:

It is true that the skin is most vulnerable during the summer and when you spend the most time in the sun, but the risk of skin damage is a year-round concern. When we think of sunscreen it is most commonly associated with those beach trips or the visits to the water park, but every day you walk outside or while you drive your car, the sun exposure is there and it’s there every day. Even when it’s cloudy the chance of being effected by the sun’s harmful rays is still present since some UVB rays will make it through the clouds and bounce off the ground. No matter which way you put it, it’s important to wear sunscreen and protect yourself no matter the time of year or weather conditions.

SPF and the Numbers:

To start, it’s important and helpful to have simple background knowledge into what SPF and the different numbers mean, because it goes a long way in determining what sunscreen is right for you. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it measures the level of UVB protection that you will receive.

This number in general terms tells you how long it would take for the sun’s UV radiation to redden your skin when the product is used correctly. So in a simple breakdown if it takes you 5 minutes to redden with no protection and you apply an SPF 30 sunscreen, it would take you 30x longer to burn or around 150 minutes.

For a more detailed breakdown, an SPF 30 sunscreen allows about 3 percent of UVB rays to hit your skin, while an SPF 50 sunscreen allows about 2 percent of these rays through. When looking at the numbers individually, it doesn’t seem like there’s a large discrepancy but when compared together an SPF 30 sunscreen allows 50 percent more UVB rays through then an SPF 50 sunscreen. So even though it’s doesn’t appear to be a drastic difference, the effects can accumulate over time.

However, it’s important to remember that real life is not always like a lab. Products with high SPF can often create a false sense of security and people who use them tend to stay outside considerably longer and don’t find it as important to re-apply. Those who forget to re-apply or don’t cover up with adequate clothing will often end up with more UV damage even with a higher SPF sunscreen, which can defeat the entire purpose.

What sunscreen is right for you?

As we know, each person is different so the recommendations made here may not be applicable to all people. It is always best to consult your physician if you have any additional questions, but below we will discuss what you should take into account when choosing your next sunscreen.

  • Broad-Spectrum Protection: This is crucial to find when searching for your next sunscreen. Sunscreen with this label provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays. All sunscreen products will protect you from UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancers, but UVA rays also contribute to skin cancer and premature aging. For a product to be labeled as broad-spectrum it must pass a specific detailed test and those that don’t must carry a warning that they only protect against sunburn.
  • SPF 30 or Higher: We discussed above what SPF meant so when choosing your next sunscreen it is recommended that you choose a product with SPF 30 or higher. Higher SPF does mean more protection but the differences get smaller the higher you go. For example SPF 15 sunscreen filters out about 93% of UVB rays while SPF 30 filters out about 97%. But as you go higher a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 filters about 98% of UVB rays while and SPF 100 sunscreen filters out about 99%. While it is important to choose a sunscreen with a high enough SPF number, it’s just as important to remember to reapply as no sunscreen will protect you completely.
  • Water resistant is not waterproof: No sunscreen is water or sweat proof and this is not a statement that manufactures are allowed to make. If a product is claiming to be water-resistant it’s important to know and remember the amount of time the water resistance lasts, because it is specific for each product. For best results, sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours and even more often if you are swimming or sweating. Also, if you are using a towel to dry off after a visit to the pool, the sunscreen can also be rubbed off this way.

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