If you’re headed on a long awaited vacation this summer, hopefully you remembered to pack sunscreen. Sunscreen is especially crucial in the summer; however, it is important to remember to wear sunscreen year round. Damage from the sun’s rays can lead to premature aging and skin cancer, regardless of your age or skin type.
While the decision to wear sunscreen should be easy, deciding which sunscreen to purchase can be quite confusing. If you find yourself browsing the endless aisles of sunscreen, keep these things in mind:
- There are two types of sunscreen: mineral (physical) and chemical. Both types of sunscreen work to protect your skin from immediate and long term damage, but differ in how they do that. Mineral sunscreen commonly uses zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to reflect UV rays. Chemical sunscreens protect your skin by absorbing UV rays. In general, chemical sunscreen is easier to apply. Mineral sunscreen is often better tolerated in people with sensitive skin, but is more difficult to apply and can leave behind a white residue.
- The sunscreen you choose should say “broad spectrum coverage,” which means it protects your skin from both UVA and UVB rays emitted by the sun. UVA rays have a longer wavelength and are commonly associated with premature aging and wrinkles. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength are associated with skin burning. Cumulative exposure to both UVA and UVB rays causes skin damage and can lead to skin cancer.
- A sunscreen bottle will also include the SPF (sun protection factor), which measures the level of protection against UVA and UVB rays. It is recommended to wear a broad spectrum water resistant SPF 30 or higher. While no sunscreen is effective at blocking 100 percent of UV rays, SPF 30 will block 97 percent of the sun’s rays, with any higher SPF being only slightly more effective.
- Applying (and reapplying) sunscreen is equally as important as choosing the right sunscreen. Sunscreen should be worn daily, even on cloudy days, as UVA rays can penetrate through clouds and even glass. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours that you are in the sun, and more frequently if you are swimming. If your sunscreen says “water resistant” you are protected for only 40 minutes, and 80 minutes if it says “very water resistant.” Do not forget commonly missed areas such as the ears, scalp, lips and top of your feet.
As you enjoy time outside this summer, remember that there is no such thing as a safe and healthy tan. Wearing sunscreen and limiting sun exposure is the single most important thing you can do to keep your skin healthy and youthful looking while decreasing your risk of developing skin cancer.
This article originally appeared in the Centre Daily Times.