Whether you’re soaking in the sun out on the balcony, on a hot day, or you’re off to the beach for a leisurely vacation, nothing quite says summer like sunscreen. It does a lot more than just protect you from the sun, and it’s an absolutely essential item to keep in your traveling bag. Here’s everything you need to know about sunscreen.
You’ve probably seen the term SPF on sunscreen packaging. SPF refers to the sun protection factor, and it’s how we determine the amount of protection that a particular brand of neutral or tinted sunscreen can offer against harmful sun rays. An SPF of 30 will allow 3% of ultraviolet rays to pass through, while an SPF of 50 will allow only 2% of UV rays through.
Experts recommend staying between the SPF sweet spot of 30 and 50 for the best balance of cost and protection.
Keep in mind that when we talk about UV rays, there is a distinction to be made between UVA and UVB rays. Both UV rays can have disastrous effects on your skin in excessive quantities, such as causing burns. The difference is that UVA rays are known for more cosmetic physical effects like blemished skin and faster skin aging, while UVB rays are notorious for their cancer-causing properties and sunburns.
Brands are secondary when you’re picking a sunscreen. Other than SPF, you’ll want to keep an eye on the type of blocker that a sunscreen uses. Sunscreens use one of two types of blocking ingredients: physical and chemical. Physical blockers immediately start protecting you from UV ray exposure, while chemical blockers require a bit of buffer time before they can be effective.
The trade-off here is that physical blockers are harder to apply due to their thicker texture. When it comes down to it, the only right sunscreen is the one you can apply consistently.
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Ideally, you’ll want to go with an option that gives you some amount of water resistance while also being broad spectrum. Having become the industry standard in recent years, broad-spectrum sunscreen protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. In effect, these sunscreens don’t just reduce the risk of skin cancer, they can also prevent wrinkles and blemishes if applied regularly.
Adults generally use about an ounce of sunscreen to cover exposed areas, while children use half an ounce. As a rule of thumb, play it safe and use more than you think you might need. Once you’re done, you will have to reapply your sunscreen after about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours depending on the conditions outside. This will also depend on how much you’ve been sweating, or if you’ve been out swimming.
Even SPF 50 sunscreen will let about 2% of UV rays through. This means that you should do your best to protect yourself using other means as well. Hats, sunglasses, or just staying in the shade, if possible, will go a long way in ensuring you stay healthy.
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Things To Look Out For
You will also want to make sure that you are accounting for ambient conditions before applying sunscreen. For example, you’ll need to use a lot more if you’re going out between 12 PM and 4 PM in some areas, as these are considered to be peak hours. Elevation also has an impact on UV exposure and can render sunscreen less effective if you don’t use enough of it. Similarly, highly reflective environments containing water and snow will cause more UV light to be reflected toward you.
Some people can also have mild allergic reactions to sunscreen, including irritation, rashes, and itching. PABA, an ingredient in some commercial sunscreens, is considered to be the reason for many of these reactions. Additionally, some chemicals in sunscreen can worsen acne for those with sensitive skin. Consult your dermatologist before using sunscreen if you suffer from pre-existing skin conditions.
Great sunscreen isn’t just nice to have, it’s a non-negotiable. From a walk to the store to a relaxing day at the resort, there’s no better way to protect your skin. Pick a sunscreen that works for you and live life your way.