The Number One Method of Skin Protection

By Lisa Johnson

When we think about sunscreens we think about summer time and laying out by the pool. However, sunscreen is not just for the summer. It is a vital part of our daily skin care routine year around. You can get just as much sun in December as you can in July. The question is what kind of sunscreen and what level of protection is necessary to avoid burning and aging of your skin.

There are two main types of sunscreen you will need to consider when deciding what sunscreen is best for you. Sunscreens fall into the categories of physical and chemical. They both work very differently, but are essential in fighting the harmful effects of the sun.

Physical sunscreens are usually called sun block. They work by deflecting or blocking the sun’s rays from your skin. They are used to protect from UVB and some, but not all, UVA rays. The main ingredients you will find in a physical sunscreen are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Some people can have allergic reactions with titanium dioxide in physical sunscreens. The consistency is usually thicker and can be harder to apply. Physical sunscreens are known to be very safe and don’t cause free radicals.

Chemical sunscreens are the second type of sunscreen. They work differently than physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the sun’s rays instead of deflecting them. This type of sunscreen can sometimes be called organic sunscreen. One drawback to an all chemical sunscreen is the fact that it can be irritating to the skin due to the amount of chemicals it contains. On a positive note, chemical sunscreens offer more protection against UVA and UVB rays than physical sunscreens. Some chemicals will even protect against the whole UVA spectrum. Not all chemicals have been approved by the FDA and there are some chemicals that may cause free radicals which can cause your skin to age.

Most sunscreens now offer the best of both worlds by using both a chemical and a physical sunscreen to give the skin ultimate protection. By using the positive aspects of both physical and chemical sunscreens, consumers can be confident that they are protected without causing any extra damage to their skin.

The second question consumers have when purchasing a sunscreen is what is SPF and what level is appropriate for their skin.

SPF stands for sun protection factor. Sun protection factor is the products ability to block or absorb the sun’s harmful rays. The number behind the SPF is used to tell how much longer you can stay in the sun with sunscreen on before you burn than without a sunscreen. With a basic SPF 15, you can stay 15 times longer in the sun that without a sunscreen before you burn. However, the increase in SPF does not increase proportionally. An SPF of 2 will absorb 50% of UV rays, SPF 15 absorbs 93%, and SPF 35 absorbs approximately 97%. Most dermatologists will recommend a minimum of SPF 15 for daily use.

Another factor to look for when deciding on a sunscreen is making sure that it is “water resistant” or “waterproof”. “Water resistant” is a product that will maintain its SPF level after at least 40 minutes of water exposure. “Waterproof”, on the other hand, is when the product maintains its SPF level after 80 minutes of water exposure. Reapplying your sunscreen will be based on the level and if its “water resistant” or “waterproof”. Remember that it must be applied after physical activity, sweating, or swimming.

In the last few years the FDA has made great strides on helping consumers comfortably pick a sunscreen and know the level of protection it actually provides. Until recently, sunscreens only provided consumers with the level of UVB protection. With new regulations consumers will know the level of UVA protection too. The UVA labeling will be represented by a Star System.

*One star is low protection

*Two stars is a medium protection

*Three stars is a high protection

*Four stars will be the highest protection available in an OTC sunscreen.

*If a product has less than one star it will contain a label stating “no UVA protection”

* The system will also help educate consumers on the harmful effects of the UVA and UVB rays.

Making a decision on how you protect your skin against the harmful effects of the sun shouldn’t be a decision you take lightly. When considering all the factors of aging and the possibilities of skin cancer, using sunscreen is a necessary component to great skin care and should be incorporated into everyone’s daily routine.