Before you step outside, do you slather sunscreen on your skin? Many people have made putting on sunscreen a part of their daily regimen, along with brushing their hair or getting dressed in the morning. For years, dermatologists and beauty experts have recommended this practice because sunscreen is one of the best protectors from the sun. But how does sunscreen actually work?
Sunscreen is used to protect skin from the sun’s harmful rays, which are known as ultraviolet rays. There are two types of UV rays that sunscreen can fight against:
Both of these rays are damaging to the skin and prolonged exposure to them can cause wrinkles, mottled skin and even skin cancer. To prevent these types of skin damage, many people wear sunscreen, of which there are two types:
Both physical and chemical sunscreens use key ingredients called active ingredients. Active ingredients are the chemicals that reflect, absorb and scatter the sun’s UV rays. The active ingredients in physical sunscreen are:
The active ingredients in chemical sunscreen are:
Sunscreens are comprised of many other ingredients such as dyes and fragrances that can cause an allergic reaction. Other ingredients such as PABAs, parabens, oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and propylene glycol can cause photosensitivity, dry skin and other harmful effects, so if you are worried about using these chemicals, look for a sunscreen that does not contain them.
Aside from the ingredients, there are a few other things to consider when choosing the best sunscreen. The first thing is SPF, or sun protection factor. The SPF measures how well the active ingredients absorb UVB rays. There is no standard for measuring the absorption of UVA rays. The SPF number is calculated by how long the manufacturer believes it will take sunscreen-slathered skin to burn.
Typically, dermatologists recommend using an SPF of at least 30. Higher SPFs of 45 or 60 are also available, but may not work better than SPF 30 due to variables such as how much sunscreen is used and how much is washed off from water or sweat.
Another important factor to consider is whether or not the sunscreen is broad-spectrum, which means that the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Since you want your skin to be protected from all UV rays, it’s best to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Sunscreen comes in many different forms including:
Generally, no type of sunscreen works better than another, so choosing a sunscreen is really a matter of preference. The one type of sunscreen you don’t want to use is the one that’s been sitting in your cabinet for the past decade. Sunscreens do expire and while they can work for up to three years, it’s recommended that you throw away any sunscreen that’s past the expiration date.
It doesn’t matter what brand or type of sunscreen you use if you don’t apply it correctly. Here are some tips on how to properly put on sunscreen:
Even though wearing sunscreen is a great way to protect your skin, it’s not the only way and works best when combined with other measures such as wearing protective clothing and hats, and staying in shaded areas during the sun’s peak hours of 10am to 4pm when possible.