Summer time is here, and whether you’re splashing in the ocean waves, playing in the backyard or having a margarita al fresco, you’re going to be exposed to lots of sun. And that means you’re applying lots of sunscreen. With this basic sunscreen guide, we hope to take the mystery out of sunscreen so that you can beat the summer heat.
UVB and UVA Rays
The sunlight that reaches us consists of two types of rays: short wave ultraviolet B (UVB) and long wave ultraviolet A (UVA). UVB rays can burn us, UVA rays age us and both contribute to skin damage and skin cancer.
UVB rays, are the chief cause of sunburn and tend to effect the skin’s most superficial levels. UVB rays are most in intense in the US from April to October from the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM; however, they can damage your skin year round, especially at high altitudes and when reflecting off of snow and water.
Although, UVB rays are more intense than UVA, UVA rays are more prevalent and have a constant level of intensity all hours of the day, throughout the year. UVA rays account for 95% of the solar radiation that reaches the Earth from the sun. UVA rays are always present, regardless of the season or the weather. UVA rays, also known as “tanning” rays, penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer, leading to premature aging.
How to Protect your Skin
We measure the efficacy of a given sunscreen by its Sun Protection Factor (SPF), which specifies how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays. A sunscreen’s SPF is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed for a person to burn when using sunscreen, as opposed to when using nothing. For instance, if you would normally burn after 10 minutes of unprotected sun exposure, applying SPF 15 theoretically protects you 15 times longer.
You should be aware that the SPF scale is not linear, meaning that an SPF of 30 is not twice as strong as an SPF of 15. Rather, when used properly, an SPF of 15 protects the skin from 93 percent of UVB rays, SPF 30 provides 97 percent protection and SPF 50 provides 98 percent protection.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:
- Broad-spectrum protection, meaning they protect against both UVA and UVB rays
- Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or greater
- Water resistant for up to 40 to 80 minutes
How and When to Apply Sunscreen
It’s rather simple: once you’ve selected the right sunscreen for you, put it everywhere. I mean it – everywhere. That means behind your ears, in the part on your hair, and even between your toes. Any part of your skin that will see the sun should receive some sunscreen. Generously apply the sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes prior to going out into the sun, and then reapply every 2 hours. Reapply it more often if you are sweating or swimming. If you are using lotion, use a golf size dollop. For sprays, apply as much as can be rubbed in, and then repeat.
Don’t let a cloudy day fool you into believing your skin won’t sustain damage from the sun. With summer weather in full swing, it’s essential that you keep bottle of sunscreen handy to protect your skin. We hope this sunscreen guide helps, but we’re always looking for more ideas and hints our readers can use, so share yours in the comments!