Good, clean sun protection
Posted at 11:00 • 14 MAY• NVBL • Brands
Summer is here, but before you head outside to bask in the sun’s glorious rays, it’s important to be prepared. By now, we’ve all heard that the sun’s rays can be damaging to our skin, causing premature aging and even cancer. Some of us heed these warnings, others take a more liberal approach. The truth is, everyone should take care when it comes to spending time in the sun. If you’re not yet convinced, read on to find out why sun protection is essential to skin health, and the things you should be doing every day to prevent irreversible sun damage.
Scary sun facts
There’s nothing more invigorating than feeling warm sunshine on your face. But just 15 minutes of exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause skin damage. Over the past 40 years, skin cancer rates have been steadily rising. In fact, in this country alone, 5 million people are treated for skin cancer every year. It’s more detrimental to spend time in the sun now than it was in the last century.
So what’s going on? The depletion of the ozone layer and general warming around the globe are to blame. It’s more important now than ever before to incorporate safe-sun habits into your daily life. And by daily, we mean 365 days a year. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can go weeks without seeing the sun. However, even on those dark, overcast days, it’s important to sunscreen-up. Clouds aren’t a 100% effective barrier against UV rays.
Everyone should care
No matter your age, ethnicity, or complexion, everyone is at risk for sun damage. It’s a common misconception that if you tan easily or have more melanin that you aren’t susceptible to UV damage or skin cancer. Unfortunately, skin cancer in people with darker skin often goes undiagnosed until it’s too late. It’s true that if you’re fair-skinned or freckle easily that you’re more prone to burning and skin cancer, but everyone is at risk, and everyone should be cautious. Bottom line, we all need to be taking care to properly protect our skin.
It’s a common misconception that if you tan easily or have more melanin that you aren’t susceptible to UV damage or skin cancer.
Important terms to know
UV-A vs. UV-B
UV, or ultraviolet light, is one of the many lights emitted by our sun. Here on earth, we get hit with 2 types of ultraviolet light: UVA and UVB. UVB is the one that causes sunburns and skin cancer. UVA rays are more prevalent and deeply penetrating and are responsible for causing skin aging, like wrinkles. UVA rays also play a role in skin cancer.
Broad spectrum sunscreen
Not all sunscreens provide protection from UVA and UVB radiation, but broad spectrum sunscreen does. These sunscreens absorb and reflect radiation before it can cause skin damage. If a sunscreen offers this protection, it will be listed with broad spectrum right on the label. If broad spectrum is not on the label, then the sunscreen only protects against UVB rays.
Ever seen this on your phone’s weather app? If not, check it out now and find where the UV index is listed. This gives you an idea of how strong the UV rays are at any given time of the day, with 11am-4pm typically being when the index number will be the highest.
- Under 6– The sun exposure risk is low to moderate. You should wear sunscreen and sunglasses and seek shade when going out.
- 6 to 10– The sun exposure risk is high to very high. You should not only be wearing your daily sunscreen, but consider extra precautions such as a hat, sunglasses, and umbrella when going out. Staying out of the sun is advisable, so look for shade if you’re spending time outdoors.
- 11& over– The sun exposure risk is extreme. It’s advisable to take maximal precautions to protect and cover up, though it is recommended to stay out of the sun entirely.
Remember that if you’re near white sand, snow, or water, these surfaces reflect sunlight and increase your UV exposure.
Become familiar with the UV index and make a habit out of checking it daily. If it’s a 7 or 8, consider moving your mid-afternoon walk to the evening. It’s especially important to check the index when you’re traveling as different latitudes may have higher daily UV index numbers than you're used to.
SPF (sun protection factor)
SPF relates to how well a sunscreen protects the skin from UVB rays. It is a common misconception that the number corresponds with how long you can stay in the sun. In fact, sunscreen is only effective for the SPF listed for two hours, after which its value declines.
Additionally, higher sunscreen numbers don’t equate to greater protection. An SPF of 100, for example, blocks about 99% percent of the sun’s UVB rays, but it isn’t twice as effective as SPF 50. In fact, SPF 50 blocks about 98%, and SPF 30 blocks about 97% of UVB rays. Studies show that regularly applying a broad spectrum SPF of 30-50 is safer than applying a higher SPF and expecting it to last longer.
The SPF number doesn't correspond with how long you can stay in the sun. Sunscreen is only effective for the SPF listed for two hours.
There is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen, but some are water resistant to 40 or 80 minutes, which will be indicated on the bottle. Even so, all sunscreens lose their effectiveness, particularly you’re swimming or sweating. It’s especially important to reapply when you’re splashing around in the water. If you’re going to be in the sun for a period of time, set a timer or ask someone to flag you down when it’s time to reapply. Be especially diligent with reapplying sunscreen to kids.
Tips for application
You’ve heard it takes a shot glass of sunscreen to adequately cover your body. And it’s true. It takes one full ounce to protect you top to toe. Remember your neck, ears, and tops of your feet. Don’t skimp on your face! Apply an SPF lip balm for lip protection. Let the sunscreen dry on your skin for 15 minutes prior to any sun exposure. Reapply every two hours, or more frequently if you’re going in the water or sweating.
The CDC recommends kids as young as 6 months wear sunscreen before going out in the sun. Infants, and babies in general, should be kept out of the sun all together.
Avoid aerosol sprays as they’re hard to apply evenly and a challenge to gauge how much you’re using. Additionally, it’s nearly impossible to avoid inhaling the product. The FDA is recommending additional safety testing be done on sprays to determine harmful effects to the lungs.
Does sunscreen expire?
Many sunscreens have an expiration date. This indicates how long the product will remain stable and guarantees its safety and effectiveness. If you don’t see an expiration date, write the date of purchase on the bottle. If you still have it three years later, toss it. At that point, the FDA says the product is no longer guaranteed to be safe or fully effective.
Make every day safer
When simply staying out of the sun is not an option, we hope you’ll take the necessary steps to protect your beautiful skin. It’s all about creating smart long term habits. Find non-toxic products you like that are easy to use, and remember to reapply regularly.
How clean is your sunscreen?
With a surprising lack of regulation, sunscreen can be packed with toxic ingredients that may be harmful to your health and the planet. Learn what you need to know and check out some of our much safer, professionally proven alternatives.