Getting a little sunshine now and then is important because this helps the body produce vitamin D that is crucial for strong bones. It also helps in the regulation of serotonin and tryptamine levels in the body. These are neurotransmitters that are directly connected to the sleep/wake cycle and mood of a person. However, too much sun exposure can lead to health problems like sunburns and an increased risk of skin cancer. An important rule to follow is to avoid sun exposure in between 10 AM and 2 PM.
Why Sunscreens is Important?
Aside from avoiding sun exposure, you can also protect your skin by using sunscreen. Too much sunlight is harmful because of ultraviolet radiation where about 90% of which are in the form of ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. The remaining is Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are absorbed partially by the ozone layer. This is the reason it is important to preserve the ozone layer. Take note that both types of UV rays are known to cause skin cancer.
The problem is that you need to choose sunscreen carefully in order to make sure it is effective and safe. Unfortunately, according to a non-profit organization called Environmental Working Group (EWG) most sunscreens that are available commercially do not provide enough protection from the harmful UV rays of the sun. There are also those that contain questionable ingredients like potentially harmful chemicals. Thus, you need to be careful in choosing sunscreen and at least know the basics of UVA and UVB rays.
Do UVB and UVA Radiation have a Connection with Sunscreen?
Excessive UV radiation damages the cellular DNA of the skin which can cause genetic mutations that eventually lead to skin cancer. In fact, the United States Department of Health and Human Services along with the World Health Organization have identified UV rays as a human carcinogen. It is the primary cause of non-melanoma skin cancers which includes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These are cancers that affect more than 250,000 Americans each year.
The big question is the difference between UVA and UVB radiation. Studies have shown that UVA rays account for about 90% of the UV radiation that reaches the surface of the earth. They are less intense compared to UVB, but UVA rays are about 50 times more prevalent. UVA rays are present during daylight hours any time of the year and can penetrate clouds. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, and it is known to be one of the major factors in skin aging and wrinkling.
On the other hand, UVB is the primary cause of sunburn and reddening of the skin. It tends to cause more damage to the superficial epidermal layers of the skin. It plays a crucial role in the development of skin cancer as well. Also, it has a contributory role in photoaging and tanning. Take note that UVB rays can damage the skin all year round especially in areas of high altitude. There are specific sunscreens that protect against UVB rays and UVA rays.
What is SPF?
SPF or Sun Protection Factor is simply the measure of the ability of a sunscreen to prevent UVB from causing damage to the skin. Theoretically, SPF 15 sunscreens prevent reddening of the skin about 15 times longer (5 hours) compared to when the skin is unprotected. SPF 15 filters out about 93% of UVB rays; SPF 30 keeps out about 97% and SPF 50 keeps out about 98%. The differences may appear to be negligible but for those who have light-sensitive skin or history of skin cancer in the family, the extra percentages can make a big difference
Why Choose Broad Spectrum SPF 15 or Higher?
The SPF factor of sunscreen rates how effective it is in preventing sunburn from UVB rays. For instance, if a person would normally burn in 10 minutes of sun exposure, SPF 15 multiplies it by a factor of 15 which means you can go 150 minutes before you get burned. In many cases, SPF 15 is enough but people with very fair skin or those that have a family history of skin cancer and other related conditions need at least SPF 30. Remember that the higher the SPF means, the smaller its increased benefit. SPF 15 is not just half as strong compared to SPF30. In fact, SPF 30 filters about 97% of UVB while SPF 15 only penetrates about 93%, so there is only a small difference.
Here are some tips to help you choose the best sunscreen for optimum protection:
1. Choose Sunscreen That is SPF 15 or higher
SPF more than 50+ is not actually clinically proven to be effective. According to the FDA, there is no clinical evidence whatsoever that these products provide better protection from the harmful rays of the skin.
2. Avoid Sunscreen Spray Especially on Children
A major consumer advocacy group advises parents and caregivers not to use sunscreen spray on children and instead use the traditional application of sunscreen lotion. This is because of the possible harmful effects when sprays are inhaled or swallowed when sunscreen is being applied. Generally, it is okay for adults to use sunscreen spray but avoid the eyes and mouth and do not inhale it.
3. Look for UVA and UVB Protection
When choosing a sunscreen, look for something that protects from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are less intense, but they are about 30 to 50 times more prevalent. They can even penetrate clouds and grass that is the reason it is best to use sunscreen during days that are cloudy. UVB rays, on the other hand, are the primary cause of the reddening of the skin and sunburn. It tends to damage the upper layers of the skin causing reddening and sunburn. It is one of the main contributory factors for photoaging and the development of skin cancer.
4. Analyze the Ingredients
Carefully check each of the ingredients of the sunscreen you are planning to buy. Watch out for potentially harmful ingredients like oxybenzone that is essentially a penetration enhancer. It has been shown to undergo a chemical reaction when exposed to UV rays. In some cases, it can cause a severe allergic reaction that may spread beyond the exposed area. Experts also suspect that it disrupts certain hormones that can cause problems with the endocrine system.
5. Keep Age in Mind
Children have particular sun protection needs according to their age. Remember that babies younger than six months are advised to be kept out of direct sunlight. For those older than six months, apply sunscreen to all areas of the skin but make sure to avoid the eyes.
Sun Safety Tips Approved by the FDA
- Avoid sun exposure between 10 AM and 2 PM because this is the time the rays of the sun are strongest.
- Protect your skin from the sun through hats, sunglasses, clothing and using sunscreen.
- Sunscreen needs to be applied at least 15 minutes before exposure to the sun.
- For infants under six months, it is best not to expose them to sunlight.
- Remember that there is no sunscreen that stops all UV rays.
- Even when it is cloudy, you still need to protect your skin from UV rays because they can penetrate clouds.
- Sunscreen needs to be re-applied at least every two hours or so. It should be applied more often when swimming or sweating.