Suncreen: What You Should Know

by Grant
Sunscreen What You Should Know

You want to enjoy your whole vacation right?

Ahhh… The warm Sun on your skin as you relax on the sand… Just the thought of it brings a smile to your face doesn’t it?

Moderate amounts of Sun are great for snorkeling and relaxing but too much will make your vacation miserable.  A sunburn can make your whole trip painful, not to mention how bad excessive ultraviolet exposure can be for your skin.

With that in mind, here’s what you should know about sunscreen and the Sun’s ultra violet rays…

Types of Ultra Violet Radiation and How It Affects Your Skin:

There are two types of ultra violet radiation that affect you at the beach, UV-A and UV-B.  UV-A, because of it’s wavelength, is not absorbed by the ozone layer, penetrates deeper, and ages your skin.  UV-B is only partially blocked by the ozone layer and is responsible for burning your skin.  If you can’t remember the difference between UV-A and UV-B, think of the ‘A’ as standing for ‘Aging’ and the ‘B’ as standing for ‘Burn’.  Both cause skin cancer.

How Sunscreen Works:

Sun shielding products fall into two general types.  Absorbers, technically referred to as Sunscreens, soak up UV rays and prevent them from reaching the skin.  Reflectors, referred to as Sunblocks, bounce back or scatter UV rays away from the skin.

Absorbing and reflecting sunscreens are made with many different chemical compounds.  Examples of absorbing ingredients are parasol and benzophenones.  Examples of reflecting ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.  If your skin reacts badly to one, try another with a different chemical.  Reflectors may be more suitable for sensitive skins.

How to Choose a Sunscreen:

Sun Protection Factor – Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, is a measure of how effectively the sunscreen’s formula limits UV-B exposure and is printed right on the front of the container.  A sunscreen’s SPF number effectively means how much longer you can stay in the Sun compared to not wearing any sunscreen at all.  For instance, SPF 15 means you would be able to stay in the Sun 15 times longer and SPF 30 means you would be able to stay 30 times longer.  As an example, if you normally burn without sunscreen in 30 minutes, proper use of a SPF 15 sunblock would mean you could remain in the sun for 30 min x 15 = 450 minutes before burning.

Just to let you know, UV-B protection does not increase proportionally with the SPF number.  For instance, an SPF of 30 does not offer twice the protection as an SPF of 15.  Take a look at the chart at the top of the page to see what I mean.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention, The Environmental Protection Agency, and the American Cancer Society recommend an SPF of at least 15.

Broad Spectrum – If you’ve been reading carefully, you’ll notice that SPF indicates only UV-B protection, so it’s important you get a sunscreen labeled “Broad Spectrum”.  Broad Spectrum sunscreens protect against both UV-A and UV-B exposure.

Waterproof – Ocean water and perspiration wash sunscreen off your skin so you will not have the same amount of protection you thought you had after swimming and tanning.  Choose a waterproof sunscreen to minimize reapplication.  Typically, water-resistant sunscreens lose their SPF after 40 minutes in the water; waterproof sunscreens after 90 minutes.  This varies brand to brand so remember to read your product’s instructions and re-apply as needed.

Sensitive skin – Use a water-based sunscreen if you have oily skin or are prone to acne.  There are also sunscreens especially made for sensitive skin or your face.

Buy a brand that does not contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) if you are sensitive to that ingredient.

By the way, expensive sunscreens are not necessarily more effective than inexpensive ones.

How to Apply Sunscreen:

Shake well.  If left for long periods of time, the compounds in sunscreen can clump together affording you less protection.

Most people don’t put on enough sunscreen so be sure to apply your sunscreen evenly and generously.  As a rule of thumb, use an ounce, roughly a handful to cover your entire body.

Don’t forget your ears, back, shoulders, and the back of your knees and legs.

Read your product label so you know when to reapply as dictated by your activity.

For Maximum Sun Protection:

Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors, 30 minutes is better.  Applying sunscreen early ensures that it is absorbed by the skin and is less likely to wash off when you perspire.

Sunscreens should not be your only means of Sun protection.  Use natural protection as well.  Trees and clothes, especially a hat, are the perfect compliment to sunscreen.

Be aware of the expiration date on the bottle.  The compounds that  protect your skin degrade over time decreasing the printed SPF rating.

Sun Exposure Facts:

Heat and brightness are not indicators of UV intensity.  The damage is done by ultraviolet radiation and is not related to temperature.  The Sun does not need to feel hot to damage your skin.

80% of the Sun’s damaging UV rays can get through clouds.

60% of the day’s sunburning radiation occurs between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Don’t confuse sunscreen, which protects against the sun’s ultraviolet rays, with tanning lotions or oils, which mainly lubricate and can enhance the sun’s rays.

According to the Oregon Health and Science University, Dermatology Department, children spend three times longer in the Sun than adults.  Be sure to re-apply their sunscreen every two hours.

Typical summer fabrics have an SPF of 6.5, less if wet.

Other Helpful Snorkeling Gear Pages:

What you should know about snorkeling masks
What you should know about snorkeling fins
What you should know about snorkels

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