Summer is in full swing, and you’re probably spending a lot of time outside. Which feels great. But the sun beating down on you all day isn’t great. You absolutely, positively must use sunscreen to protect yourself.
But sunscreen information can be confusing. You may have even heard that sunscreen can be dangerous. What’s the real scoop? Here are some burning questions you may have. And the answers.
Is sunscreen dangerous?
No, no, no. What’s dangerous is being out in the sun unprotected. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and melanoma is now the most common form of cancer for adults 25 to 29. Unprotected sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
The sun gives off two types of rays. UVB are short waves, they are the main cause of sunburn, and they tend to damage the more superficial layers of the skin. UVA are longer waves, penetrate the skin more deeply, and they play a major role in aging and wrinkling the skin. Both types are responsible for contributing to skin cancer.
Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen protects against both.
What does SPF stand for?
Sun Protection Factor. Many believe that it’s a measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from the sun without burning. So, for example, if you would burn after 20 minutes in the sun, an SPF 30 sunscreen would protect you for 30 times that, or 10 hours.
However, this is a myth. SPF is not related to the time of sun exposure, but rather the amount of sun exposure it takes to cause sunburn when using a sunscreen compared to how much exposure it takes to cause sunburn when unprotected.
One thing to note: The SPF value only relates to protection against sunburn caused by UVB radiation.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. While higher number SPFs block slightly more, the protection is not significant. It’s also important to remember that no matter what the SPF, all sunscreens should be applied about every two hours, and after swimming or sweating.
What’s the difference between a physical and a chemical sunscreen?
A physical sunscreen works by sitting on top of the skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. The ingredients you’ll see in a physical sunscreen are minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They tend to be a bit more difficult to rub into the skin (they may leave a slightly white cast to the skin), and they rub off more easily than chemical products. But they begin to work as soon as you put them on.
A chemical sunscreen penetrates the skin and absorbs the sun’s rays. You need to apply them about 20 minutes before you go outside, and they tend to be more irritating than physical sunscreens. These are ingredients like avobenzone.
What’s the deal with these new sprays?
Sprays make it easier to apply – no gooky hands, and it’s more convenient to get to hard-to-reach areas like your back. But sprays can be tricky because you can end up with a lot of sunscreen in the air instead of on your body. Always hold the nozzle close to your skin (make sure it lands on your body), and skip the spray on windy days. Be mindful not to inhale as you’re spraying and be especially careful on your face, avoiding the eyes and mouth.
Why do some sunscreens not have expiration dates?
The FDA requires all sunscreens to have an expiration date unless the manufacturer can show that the product will remain stable for at least three years. That means a sunscreen product that doesn’t have an expiration date should be considered expired three years after you get it home from the store.
Make sure you get the sun protection promised on the label by not using sunscreens passed their expiration date. If there’s no expiration date, and it’s older than three years, throw it out.