Written By: Lorenza Gil-Kabande
So you’ve discovered that wearing sunscreen every day is crucial to maintaining healthy skin, preventing early signs of aging, and skin cancer. It’s amazing that you’ve taken the first step necessary towards preventative healthcare but the next step is just as important. Choosing the right sunscreen and going about applying it makes all the difference. Is there really a wrong way to use sunscreen? In reality, there is an optimal way to use sunscreen, and the sunscreen you choose is just as favorable for your skin.
Most of us look at a sunscreen bottle and buy the one with the highest SPF- because that’s the one that will protect you from the sun the most- right? Actually, it’s a little more complex than that. As I have come to recently learn, a sunscreen’s SPF rating is important but it’s capability to be ‘broad spectrum’ is crucial. Broad Spectrum simply means that it has the capacity to protect you from both types of the sun’s damaging rays. When you apply SPF sunscreen (without broad spectrum), it adds a protective layer to your skin that shields your skin from sunburn-causing ultraviolet-B rays. However, there are also UVA rays which cause silent damage such as to your skin cells. This is where the ‘broad spectrum’ aspect of a sunscreen comes in. Both UVA and UVB radiation are highly detrimental to your skin’s health- just in different ways.
One of the first and most important things you need to know about sunscreen is that it needs to be applied every day, and reapplied about every 2 hours. Every minute you’re in sunlight- even if it’s not direct- you’re exposed to the sun’s harmful rays. It is true that the sun stimulates your skin to producing some levels of vitamin D, but it’s actually not the case one-hundred percent of the time. Items such as windows, pollution, clouds, clothing (depending on the material), and even sunscreen block the UVB rays that are responsible for producing vitamin D. The juxtaposition of this matter is that the more levels of UVB rays you’re exposed to, the more harm to your skin you’re doing but it’s also helping your skin produce vitamin D. The key is knowing to limit your time under the sun in order to get the benefits of the sun and not the damages.
What does SPF even mean? A sunscreen’s ‘Sun Protection Factor’ is its ability to protect your skin from sunburn-causing UVB rays. Dermatologists recommend at least an SPF of 15 because it means that about 93% of UVB rays are blocked. Any number higher than 15 does increase the amount of UVB rays that are blocked, but only by a small amount. For example, an SPF of 50 blocks 98% of the sun’s UVB rays but an SPF of 100 only blocks up to one percent more. Yes, a higher SPF is safer but is not as significant when compared to another factor that also plays a role in staying safe from the sun’s harmful rays.
By applying a broad spectrum sunscreen to your skin with at least an SPF of 15 as recommended by dermatologists, you are not only saving yourself from a terrible sunburn, but also from premature skin aging and even skin cancer. Creating a habit of implementing sunscreen into your daily routine will have major benefits in the long-run. Next time you’re on the market for some sunscreen, remember that choosing the right one could make the difference in your skin’s future.