Sunscreen 101

Introduction to sunscreen |

Sunscreen is important for your skin's healthEveryone should wear sunscreen everyday. Men, women, children, babies, the elderly, you name it! Sunscreen isn't just for the beach or pool anymore. It is an essential part of any skin care routine.

Why is it so important to protect yourself from the sun? Simply put, the sun causes skin damage and skin cancer. If you don't protect yourself from the sun, you'll end up looking older than you really are and getting suspicious moles checked out by the doctor.

How does sunscreen work?

The sun works its black magic by emitting two kinds of harmful ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. What's the difference between UVA and UVB rays? UVA rays cause your skin to wrinkle and age faster (UVA = aging) while UVB rays cause your skin to tan and sunburn (UVB = burning). UVB rays are also responsible for the majority of skin cancers. Both UV rays work in conjunction and cause severe damage to your skin when it's overexposed to the sun.

Here is where sunscreen comes to the rescue! UV filters in sunscreens prevent this damage from happening by forming a protective layer on your skin, either deflecting or absorbing the harmful UV rays. By wearing a good sunscreen everyday, you are essentially preventing UVA and UVB rays from reaching your skin, even if you are out in the sun for long hours at a time. It also wouldn't hurt to wear sunscreen indoors because UVA rays penetrate through glass windows.

Of course you can always try to fix sun damage, photoaging, dark spots, and other skin conditions later on in life, but no potion or lotion will ever equal a good sunscreen's power of prevention. It's much easier to prevent signs of aging, sun damage, and cancerous lesions than it is to reverse their effects.

Luckily, many different types of sunscreens are available to protect you against and minimize the dangers of the sun. Remember the ones that used to smell like coconuts and luaus? Sunscreens today are much better formulated and feel much nicer on the skin. They come in a variety of textures (gels, creams, and sprays) and range in SPF from 2 to 60.

Sunscreen can't do it all

Even though sunscreen gives good coverage, it does not provide 100% protection against the full spectrum of UV rays. Sunscreens labeled "broad spectrum" are especially misleading because they don't adequately block UVA rays. The protection of a sunscreen can also be weakened by a number of factors.

For example, most sunscreens need to be re-applied to maintain its protection while others are made less effective by photo instability, facial oils accumulating throughout the day, or makeup touch-ups. Therefore, it is a good idea to use sunscreen along with hats, tinted windows, UV proof clothing, and big sunglasses to get the maximum protection possible. The Skin Cancer Foundation also recommends avoiding the sun during peak hours, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

While many people understand the importance of wearing sunscreen, not all sunscreens are created equal. Did you know that your moisturizer or makeup with SPF probably isn't that effective for you? Did you know you need to apply 1/4th teaspoon of sunscreen for your face for it to be the most effective? Did you know you need an oil-based cleanser to completely remove sunscreen?

Sunscreen can be a confusing product, but if you know the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens, learn what to look for when choosing sunscreens, and practice wearing sunscreen the right way, you will reap all the long and short term benefits from consistent sunscreen use.

Last updated: August 28, 2012

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Physical vs. Chemical Sunscreens

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