You don’t need a dermatology degree to read a sunscreen label, but the info that’s on there isn’t as simple as it seems. Here’s the truth: the marketing hype of sky-high SPF numbers and scientific-sounding advantages are mostly just that -- hype. If you want to keep your skin healthy and sunburn-free, here’s what you’ve really got to know.
We will protect this house skin
We all know about the dangers of skin cancer, but protecting your skin goes beyond just that. Your skin is your largest organ, after all, and when it’s exposed to stress, your body produces stress hormones to compensate. That can lead to inflammation of the digestive tract contributing to digestive problems, and inflammation of airways leading to respiratory issues. Plus, sunburn takes blood away from vital organs and muscles where it’s needed. Doesn’t sound like much fun, right?
Bigger is not better
Higher and higher rated SPFs are hitting the market, since the producers figure people will assume that bigger is better. Truth is, it’s not. SPF ratings aren’t compounding, which means 100 isn’t twice as effective as 50. In fact, the difference is so marginal that it’s effectively meaningless. Anything above SPF 50 is difficult to accurately measure and likely misleading, so those bottles you see advertising SPF 100+ are playing games with numbers and your wallet since they’ve got more to do with marketing than with medical science.
SPF may be a bit of a scam, but what is undeniably important is using enough of the stuff, and reapplying often. Layer on at least a full ounce of sunscreen before you head outside, and then reapply every two hours or so -- regardless of the SPF you’re using -- since it loses effectiveness quickly and is likely to rub or wash off. If you don’t use enough, you’ll only be getting a fraction of the advertized SPF protection and the sun will wreak havoc on your skin.
Don’t forget the A
An SPF number only indicates a sunscreen's effectiveness against UVB rays (the UV light that can burn skin). So far no rating system exists for UVA rays, which cause skin to age and wrinkle. To shield your skin from both types, look for sunscreens that say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/B”
Keep covered and carry on
Sunscreen helps, but it’s not magic. If you’re spending the entire day outside, cover up when you can with lightweight shirts, shades, and maybe a hat to stop the sun from directly hitting your skin in the first place.
Skin damage is no joke, but by using the right sunscreen, and using it correctly, you can maximize your summer fun while eliminating the burn.