Have you ever gotten a tan or even a sunburn on a cloudy day? This is why: clouds only filter about 20% of UV rays. Remember, water, snow, even grass reflect sun rays and intensify their strength. So a cloudy day will not prevent you from skin damage.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime: both UVB rays (aka burning rays) and UVA rays (aka aging rays) are carcenogens. Regardless of your skin tone, exposure to the sun increases the risk of cancer.
Remember: the more time is spent outside, the more important it is to prevent ongoing skin damage. In fact, it is men over the age of 40 who spend the most time outdoors, and get the highest annual doses of UV rays.
Sunscreen is the single best thing you can do for your skin. But how to choose?
The important part is to use broad spectrum protection against both UVB and UVA rays. Many broad spectrum sunscreens use a combination of both physical and chemical prevention.
Physical or mineral sunscreens sit on the skin and scatter and reflect the rays. Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide are the ingredients to look for. They are effective right after application, and usually less irritating to the skin. No worries – today’s physical sun screens go on fabulously sheer.
Chemical filters penetrate your skin where they absorb and dissipate UVA and UVB rays. Most over the counter sunscreens will have some form of a chemical filter. They should be applied about 20 minutes before sun exposure to be effective. They are great if you are planning to be active or play in the water. Many like the ease of application that comes with chemical sunscreens. Be sure to educate yourself on sunscreen ingredients. Some ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate have come under scrutiny as they are systemically absorbed and linked to the bleaching of coral reefs and coral death. The FDA restricts the strength of the formula to a maximum of 7.5% octinoxate concentration. Always check the packaging.
How much protection should your sunscreen offer?
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect the skin from UVB rays, the kind of radiation that causes sunburn.
SPF 30 guards against 97% of UVB rays, and SPF 50 against 98% UVB rays. However, SPF 100 does not mean 100% protection! On the contrary, to achieve a higher SPF, more chemical ingredients are needed, which may increase skin irritation. The key is to reapply every two to three hours if you are outside for a prolonged time.
The American Association of Dermatologists recommends one ounce (a shot glass) to cover the exposed areas of the body, or about half a teaspoon to cover your face. (Don’t forget your ears and lips!) While many cosmetics have a SPF included, ask yourself: are you using this much product to achieve coverage? If you use half the amount, you only get half the protection. Consider a moisturizer with sunscreen under your makeup.
Don’t rely on sunscreen alone
Sunscreen is only part of the equation to protect your skin: Avoid outdoor activity between 10:00am and 2:00pm when sun rays are strongest. Wear sunglasses, a brimmed hat and clothing with UPF ultraviolet protection factor.
As always: Enjoy you time outside! Safely.