Do You Actually Understand Sunscreen?

Most nationally themed days are fun, like doughnut day, best friend day, and penguin day, for instance. These days are normally celebrated with fun social media posts.

Today, however, is Stay Out of the Sun day, which doesn’t sound as tasty as doughnut day.

It’s a day that’s important, though, because while the sun means fun – like beaches, pools, and summer vacations – it also comes with some health risks that people don’t take seriously.

The first one that comes to mind: sunburns. We’ve all done it – if you lay outside without sunscreen, you can expect your skin to be bright red and agonizingly painful for the next few days.

But how do you actually get a sunburn?

UV rays.

Small amounts of UV rays are actually good – they’re necessary for producing vitamin D for the body. However, prolonged exposure to UV radiation has consequences, depending on the type of ray. UVA rays are considered to be “aging rays”. They can prematurely age skin, resulting in wrinkles or age spots. UVB rays are known as “burning rays”, which are responsible for most sunburns.

Both types of UV radiation, however, can cause skin cancer.

Between 2-3 million non-melanoma and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year. Non-melanoma skin cancers are normally non-lethal and can be removed with surgery. Melanoma skin cancers, however, can be deadly.

The best way to avoid UV rays is to stay in a shady area or not go outside. If you must be in the sun though, science has provided us with a pretty simple solution: sunscreen. Sunscreens help prevent the negative effects of harmful UV rays- preventing sunburns and decreasing the chances of skin cancer.

Sunscreens are categorized by SPF, or Sun Protection Factor. SPF is the measure of the amount of solar energy required to produce a sunburn on protected skin, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Sunscreens come in SPFs of 15, 30, 50 – even up to 100.

A sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is recommended because they block 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. It’s important, however, to protect against both types of radiation; sunscreens that offer “broad-spectrum” protection prevent the effects of both UVA and UVB rays. (FDA)

It’s important to understand SPF refers to the strength of the sunscreen, not how long it will work. That means that sunscreens of SPF 15 and SPF 100, though they vary in strength, but will both last the same amount of time – about two hours. Reapply sunscreen as recommended by the instructions on sunscreen bottle.

Tips on how to apply sunscreen properly:

  • Cover all skin not covered by clothing (ears, face, etc)
  • Apply at least one ounce (about the size of a shot glass)
  • Apply while inside and let it dry 15 minutes before going outside

It’s recommended that you wear sunscreen every day that you plan to be outside, even on cloudy days. Even if the sun isn’t shining, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can still reach your skin.

So if you must go out in the sun during Stay Out of The Sun Day, at least put on the SPF.

Additional Resources to peruse

Skin Cancer

World Health Organization



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