It seems like new sunscreen and skin protection products are showing up on the market all the time. Figuring out which ones to buy can be intimidating, because choosing wrong can result in painful burns and lasting skin damage.
To help make sense of the mysterious world of sunscreen, we’ve come up with this handy guide so that you can make more informed decisions.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for “sun protection factor,” and is a measure of time, as opposed to strength. If a person could stand in direct sunlight for 10 minutes before they began to burn, applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 should theoretically allow them to stay out for 150 minutes, because they increased their protection by a factor of 15.
There are a few inherent problems with this system, and it helps to be aware of them.
- It’s very hard to determine how long an individual could be safe in the sun without burning, so multiplying an unknown number by an SPF is risky.
- Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, regardless of SPF. So even though it seems like a sunblock with SPF 50 would allow the person from our example to stay out for 500 minutes, they would probably have begun burning long before that, because sunscreen wears off.
Chemical Vs. Mineral
Chemical Sunscreens – These often contain either Avobenzone or Oxybenzone. Some consumers shy away from the term “chemical” thinking it must be inherently bad, but the reality is that both chemical substances work exceptionally well as skin protection.
Some people may be sensitive to Avobenzone and Oxybenzone, however. If you’ve ever felt an uncomfortable stinging around your eyes, it’s from one or both of those substances.
Mineral sunscreen – The active ingredients in these products are Zinc Dioxide and Titanium Dioxide. Reports seem to indicate that mineral sunscreens are less effective than chemical sunscreens – but they are often recommended for children or babies, because they are far less likely to cause stinging.
Can Sunscreen be Waterproof?
They can be water “resistant,” meaning they will retain their SPF for a certain amount of time, even when wet. Many companies are now labeling their products indicating how long you can expect sun protection while swimming or sweating – usually either 40 or 80 minutes.
The important thing is that you keep track of time, and reapply at the recommended intervals.
Sprays Vs. Lotions
It is not currently known whether inhaling sprayed sunblock is harmful. Tests are underway to determine this, but in the meantime, experts are recommending against using spray sunscreen on children.
Lotions are considered the safer bet, but they take longer to apply. Make sure you take your time and get even coverage on all exposed skin.
Here’s the bottom line:
Any sunscreen is safer than no sunscreen. Sunburn can range from a mild redness to weeping, open blisters. Severe sunburn can come along with a fever, chills, stomach distress and the danger of skin infection. Those suffering severe sunburns in their lives have an increased risk of skin cancer.
It’s not worth it to skip the sunscreen.
Sunscreen is recommended, but so is protective clothing, hats, sunglasses and shade. Stay safe this summer, and protect your skin. You can still enjoy the sun without getting burnt.