Are You Using Your Sunscreen Correctly?

The summer is here, and so is our collective urge to leave our homes and get some warm sun rays to bathe our skin. This is a time for family and friends to go to beaches, cottages, patios, or just enjoy the sun from the comfort of our backyards. Unfortunately, in the midst of all this excitement, many of us as burned by the consequences of too much sun exposure. UV radiation from the sun can cause sunburns, wrinkles, and the worst of all – skin cancer.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and more than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.” So, the question is, how we can protect our skin from sun damage while enjoying the warm weather?

The answer is simple. If you apply an adequate amount of sunscreen regularly and take a few other protective measures, you can protect your skin from sun damage while enjoying your time outdoors.

Do You Know?
More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S.,
than all other cancers combined.
-Skin Cancer Foundation

However, the catch here is that buying the right sunscreen isn’t really that simple.,  For this reason, this article has been written to provide you with a simplified understanding of what are UV rays, how they affect your skin, types of sunscreens in the market, what to look for when you buy a sunscreen, how to use sunscreen and other sun safety measures.

What is UV Radiation and How Can It Affect My Skin?

UV radiation results from electromagnetic energy from the sun and artificial sources like tanning beds. As per the Health Canada website, “UV radiation has a shorter wavelength and is more energetic than visible light. Depending on its wavelength, it can get through the ozone layer and affect our health in different ways.”

There are two major types of UV radiation are UVA & UVB.

UVA rays have a longer wavelength. They penetrate more deeply into the skin and can cause premature aging. Over time, they can make your skin become wrinkled and leathery. It can also cause certain types of cancer.

UVB has a shorter wavelength. UVB affects the outer layers of the skin and can cause suntan, sunburn, blistering, and most of the skin cancers.

Do You Know?
Up to 90% of UVA rays pass through the ozone layer whereas a large number of UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer – only 5% of UVB rays reach our planet’s surface.
-Health Canada

What is the UV Index?

The UV index is the international standard measurement to determine the strength of UV rays at a specific place and time. It ranges between 0-15. The higher the number, the more the intensity of the UV radiation, and the greater the resulting skin damage.

Find your area’s UV index through your local Weather Service (eg. US locations: National Weather Service) and take necessary precautions.

Depending on the UV Index in your city, the precautions you need to take may vary:

Rating Risk Minutes to burn Precautions
0 – 2 Minimal 60 minutes Sunscreen, UV sunglasses
2 – 4 Low 45 minutes Sunscreen, UV sunglasses
4 – 6 Medium 30 minutes Sunscreen, UV sunglasses, and hat
6 – 10 High 15 minutes Sunscreen, UV sunglasses, hat and umbrella
10 – 15 V. High 10 minutes Sunscreen, UV sunglasses, hat, umbrella & avoiding the midday (Source: University of Iowa Health Care)

Will Applying Sunscreen Decrease My Risk of Skin Cancer?

The short answer is, yes, sunscreen plays a very important role in preventing skin cancers! According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, a landmark study demonstrated that daily use of sunscreen can prevent the development of melanoma (a type of skin cancer). This longitudinal study conducted in Australia, with 1621 individuals aged 25–75 years assessed the effect of sunscreen use on the development of skin cancers. It was found that melanoma risk was reduced by 50% with daily use of sunscreen!

Am I at Risk for a Vitamin D Deficiency if I Use Sunscreen Daily?

Vitamin D is very important for your bone health. It is true that UVB is necessary for Vitamin D synthesis but overexposure to UVB can cause skin cancer. So, The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention recommends obtaining vitamin D through food and supplements, not through UV rays. Therefore, a Vitamin D deficiency should not be a concern when deciding to use sunscreen on a daily basis.

Do You Know?
You need protection from UV rays on both sunny and cloudy days since up to 80% of the sun’s rays can get through light clouds, mist, and fog.
-Health Canada

What is SPF? What Level of SPF Should My Sunscreen Have?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a measure of sunburn protection provided by a sunscreen product. So, higher SPF values can provide more sunburn protection. SPF value is calculated based on how long it takes to cause a sunburn when using a sunscreen compared to when not using a sunscreen.

Please note that SPF is directly related to the amount of sun exposure and not related to the time of sun exposure. So, if your sunscreen is SPF 30, that does not mean that you can get the sun protection for 30 hours. But it means that it will take you 30 times longer to get sunburnt than if you had used no sunscreen at all.

According to the new guidelines from the FDA, your sunscreen should be SPF 30 and above and should have broad-spectrum protection. As the SPF increases, broad-spectrum protection increases. The term “broad-spectrum” means that it protects against both types of UV rays (UVA & UVB).

What Are The Different Types of Sunscreen?

Mineral sunscreen:

Mineral sunscreens are like a shield and block UV rays at the physical level. The sit on top of your skin and deflect the sun’s rays away from the skin. These can rinse off easily so they should be applied liberally and reapplication after regular intervals is necessary. Zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide are the active ingredients in this type of the sunscreen. If you have sensitive or acne-prone skin, then this is the best sunscreen for you.

Chemical sunscreens:

These absorb UV rays like a sponge before they can damage your skin.  Unlike physical/mineral sunscreens, these do not leave any white residue because they penetrate the skin. Chemical sunscreens take more time (about 15-20 minutes) to be effective than physical/mineral sunscreens.

Do You Know?
90 percent of the visible skin changes commonly attributed to aging are caused by the sun. With proper protection from UV radiation, most premature aging of the skin can be avoided. So, say goodbye to all your anti-aging creams and start using sunscreens!

Should I Use a Spray Sunscreen, a Cream Sunscreen, or a  Stick Sunscreen?

Sunscreens are available in different forms including lotions, oils, creams, pastes, butter, sticks, sprays, gel, and ointments. It is a matter of personal choice. As per new guidelines by FDA, “Sunscreen sprays, oils, lotions, creams, gels, butter, pastes, ointments, and sticks are proposed as safe and eff­ective.”

Regardless of which sunscreen you choose, apply it generously to get complete UV protection.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommendations, “Creams are best for dry skin and the face. Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest whereas sticks are good to use around the eyes and forehead. Sprays are preferred by parents but note that current FDA regulations on testing and standardization do not pertain to spray sunscreens. “

Can the Chemicals in My Sunscreen Cause Cancer?

Physical/mineral sunscreens contain active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. According to the FDA, both ingredients (zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) are safe and for daily use. Chemical sunscreens contain one or more active ingredients including oxybenzone, avobenzone, oxalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and octinoxate.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, “research on oxybenzone, retinyl palmitate and parabens in sunscreen does not show that they cause cancer.” The FDA proposes that it needs more safety testing for the remaining sunscreen ingredients but that does not mean the chemicals are unsafe. It is not advisable to stop using sunscreen because it contains any of these chemicals.

Does a Dark-Skinned Person Need to Use Sunscreen?

It is true that the risk of skin cancer is much lower for dark-skinned people than white people. But a study shows that people of color (POC) are more likely to die from skin cancer because of a delay in detection. Most often, skin cancer is diagnosed at a more advanced stage in POC.

Like light-skinned people, dark-skinned people can suffer from hyperpigmentation and premature  aging of the skin due to an excessive exposure to sunlight. The FDA recommends that everyone irrespective of age, gender or race must use sunscreen because anyone can get skin cancer.

Here is an interesting video on how to protect & treat your skin from sun damage by William Wei-TingHuang, an Associate Professor at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Department of Dermatology.

What Should I Look For When Choosing a Sunscreen?

Buy a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher and apply it every day. Not all sunscreens are broad-spectrum so check the label before buying them. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If your skin is fair, you may want a higher SPF of 30 to 60. Products that combine sunscreens with insect repellents are not generally considered safe and effective.

Do You Know?
Scars should be carefully protected from harmful UV rays.
All scars should be covered with clothing or sunscreen to protect from the sun.
-Seattle children’s Hospital and Research Foundation

Does Heat Affect Sunscreen, and When Should I Throw Away My Sunscreen?

Yes, your sunscreen expires faster if you store it in a warmer place. Experts recommend replacing it after every few months if it is exposed to heat.

If there is any change in the texture of your sunscreen or if it starts to have a bad smell, it is time to throw out your old tube and buy the new one.

Do not use expired sunscreen products because they cannot provide you with sufficient protection. Do not buy products that have no expiry date. Though the shelf life of sunscreen is three years,  it is advisable to change it every year.

How Much Sunscreen Should I Apply?

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),” consumers use much less sunscreen than is needed to effectively protect, so use more than you think you need. Use a shot glass full to cover the full-body, a fourth to a half teaspoon for the face.”

And finally, some important tips for sun lovers…

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM. Here are some ways to entertain yourself over the summer while staying at home!
  • Try your best to avoid getting sunburned!
  • Avoid tanning, and never use UV tanning beds.
  • No sunscreen completely blocks UV radiation, and other protections are needed, such as protective clothing including a broad-brimmed hat, UV-blocking sunglasses, and staying in the shade.
  • Use sunglasses or contact lenses that offer 99 to 100 percent UV protection.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to all uncovered skin, especially your nose, ears, neck, hands, feet, and lips (but avoid putting it inside your mouth and eyes).
  • No sunscreen is waterproof. Sunscreen must be reapplied immediately after swimming or sweating.
  • Read the instructions on the label to ensure that you are using your sunscreen correctly.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Only use sunscreen on babies over the age of six months.
  • Melanoma is very common in dogs so protect them from the sun damage. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your furry friend.
  • Certain medications may increase skin and eye sensitivity to UV (in all skin types). Check the label and consult your doctor for more information.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month to look for any new marks, burns..etc.
  • See a dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.

Sources: The Skin Cancer Foundation, FDA

To Summarize…

If you are now confident about your knowledge on sunscreen, take this quiz to test it…

“I love summertime more than anything else in the world.
That is the only thing that gets me through the winter,
knowing that summer is going to be there.”
—Jack McBrayer

Have happy and safe summer!

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10 Responses

  1. palak pandya says:

    Hey.. could you post post an article about a quick skin care routine..

  2. Rach says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I worry so much about burning my skin because I’m so fair! Very informative I’ll remember these tips next time I go out in the sun 🙂

  3. Kayla says:

    I had no idea that chemical sunscreens weren’t effective until 15 minutes afterward! 😬

  4. palak pandya says:

    😳never thought about this .. thank you for enlightening us

  5. J.P. says:

    Very informative!!!

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