Studies have shown that a sensible amount of sun actually reduces your risk of several cancers and other serious health conditions. It’s all thanks to vitamin D, made by our bodies as a result of our skin’s absorption of the sun’s UVB rays. Most of us get about 90 per cent of our vitamin D from the sun – even in Winter time!
But, too much of a good thing is definitely not good for us. While we cannot live without sun, it is, by far, the worst enemy of our skin. In excess amounts, sunlight creates free radicals, which cause cell damage, eventually leading to very serious skin damage, premature aging, and skin cancer.
It’s all about the rays
The sun emits three kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays: UVC, UVB, and UVA. UVC rays are short rays that are, thankfully, blocked by the ozone layer, and in large doses are deadly to all live creatures because of their germicidal properties. UVB rays are the next longest UV rays. These are the rays that, in excess amounts, contribute to most skin cancers and are responsible for sunburns. UVB are much stronger than UVA rays, which are the longest rays, and responsible for damage of precious collagen and elastin fibrils causing skin to age prematurely.
Managing adverse effects of the sun just takes some active intervention. It means watching your exposure to the sun and when you are exposed to the sun, wearing sunscreen. Sunscreens are FDA regulated over-the-counter drugs which are designed to filter, reflect, or absorb UVA and/or UVB rays emitted by the sun.
Types of sunscreen
There are two types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens contain chemicals design to absorb and chemically neutralize UV rays. The most common key ingredients include octinoxate, octisalate, oxybenzone, and avobenzone, often used in combination. Some of them screen parts of the UVB spectrum, and others UVA rays. When several sunscreen chemical ingredients are combined, this is known as a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Chemical sunscreens are usually invisible when worn, but their main disadvantage is that they are many people are allergic to them, so they can cause skin irritation, especially in individuals with sensitive skin.
Physical sunscreen ingredients work by physically reflecting the light off the skin. Ingredients that reflect sun rays, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are basically finely ground minerals. When applied to the skin, they literally bounce the light off. The main advantage is that they are almost never cause irritation or allergy, making them great choice for allergy-prone skin. On downside they are hard to formulate without looking white or pasty, particularly on darker skin.
Because of the popularity and effectiveness, broad-spectrum sunscreens containing both chemical and physical sun blockers are now included in many day creams, moisturizers, and foundations.
We need sunscreen, but which one?
SPF stands for Sun Protecting Factor. It’s a number that represents how long someone can stay out in the sun without burning while using the sunscreen. So if a person normally burns in one hour without sunscreen applied, an SPF-2 sunscreen will allow person to stay out in the sun two times as long (2 hours), without burning. It’s really only designed to prevent sunburns, they do not measure how much light is actually being blocked from the skin or how much UVA and UVB rays are being screened, which actually more important in terms of sun damage prevention.
So, how high should we go? Is higher SPF always better?
An SPF-15 blocks 93% of UVB radiation, and SPF 30 sunscreen blocks nearly 97%, while SPF-50 blocks an estimate 98% of UVB rays. The increase in UVB protection of SPF-30 and 50 is minimal. And because it only protects you from the burn, you can still receive large amount of radiation.
Sunscreen products with very high SPF may encourage individuals to neglect other photo-protective behaviors, such as seeking the shade and wearing sun-protecting clothes. High SPF sunscreens can also create a false sense of security, prompting some people to stay in the sun longer. So as general rule, most dermatologists, pharmacists and estheticians recommend products with SPF no lower than 30 and no higher than 50. Those SPF ratings allow in the essential vitamins, while blocking or reflecting more harmful UV rays.
The importance of using sunscreen with appropriate protection cannot be emphasized enough, from keeping our skin young and beautiful to protecting us from skin cancer. Prevention is the key, and it doesn’t matter how much sun exposure during the day you get, good broad-spectrum SPF-30 to 50 needs to be part of everyones skincare routine and applied daily.