With the arrival of warmer weather, many people are spending more and more time in the sun. However, basking in the sun, especially without protecting your skin can lead to wrinkles, premature aging and, worst of all, skin cancer.
The sun’s UV rays consist of UVB and UVA Photons. The shorter UVB rays don’t penetrate deeply into the skin; however they can cause damage to DNA and cause sunburn and skin cancer. The longer UVA rays penetrate deeper layers of the skin where they produce free radicals. UVA exposure has been linked to premature aging of the skin and immunological problems.
A sunscreen product acts as a bullet proof vest so to speak—stopping the UV photons before they can reach the skin and inflict damage. They do this by absorbing the UV rays, scattering them, and reflecting them.
SPF stands for SUN PROTECTION FACTOR. Products with a higher SPF allow fewer of the photons that produce sunburn to strike the skin.
SPF is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours.
But there are problems with the SPF model: First, no sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to stay effective longer than two hours without reapplication. Second, “reddening” of the skin is a reaction to UVB rays alone and tells you little about what UVA damage you may be getting. Plenty of damage can be done without the red flag of sunburn being raised.
To deliver true broad spectrum protection, products must also block a significant function of the UVA photons. This means the product must contain significant levels of zinc oxide, avobenzone or titanium dioxide.
There are two categories of sunscreens: Chemical or Physical.
- The chemical sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing UV radiation. The physical block light by reflecting UV away from the skin. Chemical sunscreens contain avobenzone or a benzophenone and PABA. In rare cases these chemicals can cause skin irritation and should be avoided if you have skin allergies.
- The physical sunscreens that use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do not typically cause allergic reactions. Though new technology, they are now making them more transparent without losing their ability to screen UV.
So how can you protect yourself?
First, it is important to apply sunscreen on a daily basis. The best time to apply is when you first wake up in the morning after a shower. Apply to face, neck, chest and arms as these are the places that are most exposed to the sun. Also important is to allow the sunscreen to be absorbed into the skin, usually around 10 minutes prior to sun exposure.
Second, reapply every 2 hours while out in the sun. Sunscreen only lasts about 2 hours after application and must be reapplied in sufficient quantities, especially when doing physical activity (sweating) or swimming. The important part is how long the sunscreen will stay in the skin. Higher end sunscreens usually mean longer protection.
A few important facts:
• If you’re young, your sunburn may put you at risk for skin cancer decades later.
• Buy a broad-spectrum sunscreen, protecting against both UVA and UVB ray that has an SPF of 30 or higher to reduce the risk of early skin aging and skin cancer.
• Products claiming water resistance must say how long you can expect to get that protection while swimming or sweating, either 40 minutes or 80 minutes.
• Finally, slather sunscreen on heavily.
If you already have sun damage, consult with a board-certified plastic surgeon for remedies and start using sunscreen religiously.
Here at Renue Aesthetic Surgery we offer a full line of sunscreen products that can protect you from the damaging rays of the sun.