What you need to know

We all love the sun’s warmth, but adequate sun protection is imperative for your skin’s overall look and health. Over one million people in the United States alone are diagnosed with skin cancer every year — but sunscreen can easily prevent this with regular and consistent sun-protective practices.

There are two types of sun rays that need to be addressed with your sun protection. UVA rays penetrate deep into your skin to cause wrinkles and age spots and are responsible for making your skin look older than it is. On the other hand, UVB rays mainly affect the surface of your skin and cause sunburn. Both forms of UV radiation can be absorbed by the DNA in your skin cells, leading to mutations that can cause melanoma and other skin cancers. Sunscreens, when appropriately applied, form a barrier between your skin and the sun to protect it against radiation damage.

There are two main types of active ingredients in sunscreen: chemical blockers and physical blockers. Although there are a few differences between them, they both work to reduce UV radiation’s impact on your skin.

Chemical blockers work to absorb radiation from the sun and transform it into small amounts of heat. Filtering compounds like oxybenzone, octisalate, avobenzone, and octinoxate help protect your skin without leaving a visible white cast after application.

Meanwhile, the physical blockers such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide sit on the surface of your skin to reflect and scatter ultraviolet radiation. Although these ingredients do not irritate the skin as much as chemical ingredients, they are more likely to leave a white residue.

However, both active ingredients are safe and effective for regular use. In addition, many sunscreen formulations made today contain a combination of both chemical and physical blockers; this usually provides you with better protection than just one kind alone.

3 Sunscreen mistakes frequently made

Check for expiration dates.

Most people do not realize that sunscreens have an expiration date. Most products will have the expiration date labeled somewhere on the container; if not, you should replace your sunscreen every two years. The active ingredients start to break down after a few years, which reduces the amount of protection you get.

Storing sunscreen properly.

The active ingredients in your sunscreen break down faster when exposed to heat or light. Therefore, it is best to keep your sunscreen in the shade, in a bag, or wrapped in a towel when outdoors. Ideally, you want to keep your sunscreen below 77 degrees Fahrenheit; anything hotter than that, and your sunscreen will begin to degrade.

Wear sunscreen every day.

Using sunscreen every day helps protect you even when you do not think you need it. Even cloudy outside, up to 80% of UV radiation can still penetrate your skin. You are exposed to UVA radiation that passes through window glass when you are indoors. Reflective surfaces like snow or water also increase your radiation exposure, as they reflect light to you.

What to look for in sunscreen

Look for products specifically labeled “broad-spectrum” or ones that clearly state that they protect from UVA and UVB radiation.
Choosing a sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or higher.

Sunscreen can play a massive factor in sun protection, but only if applied correctly. You will want to apply sunscreen for at least 30 minutes before being exposed to the sun. This is because your skin can take up to 30 minutes to fully absorb the product, so being exposed to sunlight before then can still cause damage to your skin.

Because sunscreen wears off, make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours or less. If you are swimming, sweating, or staying in the sun for a long time, reapply every 60 to 90 minutes instead.

In addition to sunscreen, wearing hats with a wide brim, sunglasses that offer UV protection, and tightly woven long sleeve shirts and pants can offer added protection.

Sun damage accounts for up to 90% of all premature skin aging. However, by following these tips, you can help protect your skin from damage caused by UV radiation. This will prevent your skin from looking older and lessen your chances of skin cancer caused by sun exposure.

For more information about skin and skin cancer, visit our website blog, “Understanding Skin Cancer (Carcinoma).”