SPF Smarts

Fireworks, s’mores, mosquitos…

With summer in full swing, sun exposure is definitely on the rise, and so is the use of sunscreens. The question is why the number of new cases of skin cancer continue to rise. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, diagnosed in more than two million people annually. The most effective treatment is prevention, but with so many products on the market, the choices can be overwhelming.

Here is a sunscreen primer:

SPF = UVB protection
There was a time when SPF 15 was the Holy Grail of sun protection. SPF = Sun Protection Factor=the degree of protection a formula provides against UVB or burning rays. Burning rays damage the dermis (or superï¬cial layer of the skin), and create a sunburn. This damage may contribute to skin cancer, but these are not the only rays to beware.

What about UVA?
UVA rays are the ones to really watch out for. UVA are longer and more penetrating rays they cut through clouds and glass as well as superficial layers of the skin and destroy collagen and elastin causing wrinkles and sagging, YUCK! UNlike the UVB rays which cause sunburn these rays cause damage underneath the skin and potentially causing DNA damage to cells deep with in the skin (increasing the risk of more dangerous types of skin cancer).

Just because a formula has a high SPF number and excellent UVB protection, it may not have any UVA protection.

Physical or chemical, that is the question…
Sunscreens work in one of two ways to protect the skin from UVA and UVB rays:

In a physical sunscreen, ingredients such as Zinc oxide and Titanium sit on the surface of the skin creating a physical layer of protection (as would clothing).

In a chemical sunscreen, a combination of ingredients such as Avobenzone (the most recent sunfiltering chemical, approved by the FDA in 1988), Oxybenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate permeate the skin to create a protective layer.

Which to choose?
There tends to be two camps with a line drawn in the sand regarding ingredients. One group argues for chemical sunscreens as the most effective protection against skin cancer and claims that there are no correlations between ingredients found in chemical sunscreens and health risks.

The advocates for physical sunscreen maintain that these are the safest most effective sunscreens on the market, owing to the fact that chemical sunscreens contain ingredients that penetrate the skin and may mimic hormones and disrupt the hormone system.

Regardless of which type you choose, the most important thing to remember is a sunscreen loses its effectiveness quickly so the key is to follow application directions and reapply often!

Here are some tips to help you reduce the risk while still enjoying the great outdoors:

  • “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure.” It doesn’t matter how effective your sunscreen is if you are using it incorrectly. Apply a full ounce of a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) SPF 30+ sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily.
  • Plan to be outside before 10 AM or after 2 PM (this is when the sun’s rays are less intense). Minimize exposure at midday.
  • Physical protection is your best defense. Wear a hat, sunglasses, and cover up as much as possible. A beach umbrella or tree can also reduce your risk of exposure, and it’s incredible how much cooler you’ll be. You’ll have it made in the shade.

Enjoy, but remember to play it safe!