If you practice safe sun exposure, you likely apply some sort of sunscreen to defend against skin damage, wrinkles and brown spots. And if you’re not using it, it’s time to start. With spring fully underway and summer quickly approaching, the sun’s rays are nearing their peak annual levels.
Staying sun-safe doesn’t necessarily mean you have to hide inside or sit under an umbrella 24/7. You can safely spend time outdoors, so long as you’re sporting a protective barrier that prevents burning, peeling and the development of melanoma (skin cancer). Remember, applying sunscreen the right way makes a difference in your level of protection.
UV-A, UV-B and UV-C Rays
We all know certain creams, lotions and sprays protect skin from sun damage, but the science behind sunscreen is a lesser-known fact. One misconception is that sun protectants act as a shield, much like a piece of clothing or cotton cover up. Another common misconception is that sunscreens do not fully protect against UV rays.
On the contrary, sunscreen combines organic and inorganic active ingredients to prevent burns and overexposure. The inorganic ingredients are zinc oxide or titanium oxide. These chemical compounds reflect ultraviolet rays so they aren’t beating directly onto your skin. The organic ingredients, octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone, absorb ultraviolet rays and disperse heat.
Two types of UV rays come from the sun: UV-A and UV-B. UV-A is not absorbed by the earth’s ozone; it damages the skin beneath the epidermis. UV-B rays cause sunburn and are partially blocked by the ozone. UV-C rays do not reach the earth’s atmosphere whatsoever and can only be transmitted by artificial radiation.
Unfortunately, many sunscreens feature only a Sun Protection Factor, also known as SPF. SPF blocks UV-B rays and prevents sunburns, but does not block UV-A rays that can damage the skin below the outermost surface. Always opt for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF to combat all types of skin-damaging rays.
Tips for Better Sunscreen Application
Follow these steps for comprehensive sun protection:
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreens (protect from UV-A and UV-B rays) with an SPF of 30 or higher that are water resistant.
- Always apply before you head outdoors. Just one ounce of sunscreen that fills the palm of your hand effectively shields all exposed areas on the average human body.
- It takes approximately 15 minutes for skin to properly absorb sunscreen, so make sure to apply at least one layer prior to venturing outdoors.
- Rub lotions into your skin well. For areas like your back, use a spray applicator or ask someone for assistance.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after being in the water. Even when it’s cloudy or cold outside, the sun’s rays can still cause burns – especially in mountainous regions at high altitudes.
- Visible skin isn’t the only area requiring protection: If you have thinning hair, your scalp could be susceptible to burns. Apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide-brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply lip balm with a minimum SPF 15.
Sunscreen won’t prevent a bronzed appearance, so you can still achieve that enviable glow while sustaining skin health. Rather than suffer from a burn, however, sunscreen users get small doses of exposure for a healthier, vibrant tan.
No matter how often you wear sun protectants, check yourself for melanoma regularly. Even the most dedicated sunscreen users can suffer skin damage.
For more information on warm weather skin care and sun safety, schedule an appointment with Miami aesthetic dermatologist Dr. Mariano Busso by calling 305-857-0144.