Sunscreen & Being Sun-Smart

What is sunscreen?

Sunscreen is any product that can be applied topically to the skin to reduce the amount of UV radiation into the skin.

Why should I wear it?

UV radiation has the ability to damage skin cells in many ways:

  • It cooks the surface layers of the skin, resulting in red and painful sunburns;
  • It damages the deep layers of the skin, resulting in loss of the collagen and elastin that keep our skin looking young, taut and healthy, and contribute to signs of aging;
  • It damages the DNA inside skin cells, which can result in mutations that cause skin cancers, which can be both disfiguring and life-threatening.

How does sunscreen work?

There are two main types of sunscreen, and each have different mechanisms of action:

  • ABSORPTIVE: This type of sunscreen is absorbed into the skin and is invisible once it is rubbed in. They are also known as ORGANIC UV FILTERS. Once absorbed into the skin, they can absorb and dissipate the energy from UV radiation, preventing that radiation from damaging your skin cells instead. Most of the sunscreens on the market are absorptive.
  • REFLECTIVE: This type of sunscreen reflects UV radiation from the surface of the skin. They are also known as INORGANIC UV FILTERS. Once applied, they do not absorb into the skin, but rather form an opaque white barrier on top of the skin that prevents UV radiation from getting through to the skin underneath by reflecting and scattering the incoming light rays. A common example is Zinc Oxide.

Both types are good, but the ABSORPTIVE (ORGANIC FILTER) types are considered to be the most effective.

What is SPF?

SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor.” It helps to estimate how long the protection from your sunscreen will last, based on how long it normally takes your skin to burn without sunscreen. For example, if you normally burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, using a sunscreen with SPF 30 would supposedly provide 30 x 10 minutes = 300 minutes of sun protection before you would burn.

WARNING: There are lots of reasons why SPF doesn’t actually offer as much protection as you think!

SPF only predicts protection from UVB-type radiation, but not UVA. Both UVA and UVB can cause skin damage, so your skin may be getting more UVA damage than you think, even with sunscreen on.

Sunscreen is only works as long as it stays on your skin! Sweating, swimming and activity all make sunscreen come off faster, lowering its ability to protect your skin. Even if your SPF calculation predicts you will be protected for multiple hours, much of the sunscreen will be worn off after a few hours simply from normal sweating.

What SPF and brand should I use?

All brands offering “broad-spectrum UVA and UVB coverage” are equally effective. Sprays and creams work equally well. Generally SPF 45+ is best. Some brands are now selling sunscreens of SPF 100 or more – these should be even better, right? Well, not really: theoretically higher SPFs last longer, but in reality all sunscreens get rubbed, washed or sweated off the skin after 2-3 hours or so, and even more quickly with heavy activity. More important than a super high SPF number is PROPER APPLICATION!

How to PROPERLY use sunscreen:

To get the most of your sunscreen, follow these rules of application:

  • Use a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB.
  • Use minimum SPF 40.
  • Apply generously 20-30 minutes before going out into the sun. Don’t forget your ears, hands, and the back of your neck!
  • Re-apply 20-30 minutes after going out into the sun.
  • Re-apply every 2-3 hours while outside.
  • Re-apply more often if you’re swimming or sweating heavily.

And just as important as using sunscreen, BE SUN-SMART:

  • Avoid being in the sun during peak hours, between 11am and 4pm.
  • If you are out in the sun, always seek shade for extra coverage.
  • Stop tanning! Baking under the sun (or under UV lights in a salon!) is not safe. A glowing tan is not a sign of good health, it is a sign that you have damaged your skin!
  • Dress to protect! Wear a wide-brimmed hat (don’t forget to cover your ears!), UV-blocking sunglasses, and long-sleeved clothing.
  • Apply sunscreen all year round, even in winter. UV rays can be doubled by reflection off snow and ice – just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you can’t get a sunburn!
  • Be extra careful when near water, snow and sand, as they reflect the sun’s rays, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Apply sunscreen even when it is cloudy – clouds only block a small percentage of UV rays. You can still burn on a cloudy day!
  • Look after your kids – they too need protection from the sun’s rays. Teach them early to be sun-safe!