Sunscreen and you: Answers to your questions

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, but sunscreen should be a year-round consideration. Choosing the right sunscreen is important, so here are the things you need to consider:

Aren’t all sunscreens the same?

In a word, no. Sunscreens are designed to prevent your skin from being damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are two types of harmful sun rays, UVA and UVB. Scientifically, the primary difference between UVA and UVB rays is the wave length. Yet practically speaking, these rays have different effects on your body. Protection from UVB rays is key to preventing burns, but protection from UVA rays is equally important as UVA rays can cause skin damage and more harmful forms of skin cancer. Some sunscreens only protect against UVB rays, while others protect against UVB rays and UVA rays.

Most consumers seem confident that the main difference between types of sunscreen is the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number. Hypothetically, the higher the number, the greater the protection from sun burns and skin cancer. That is simply not the case. SPF 30 provides 97% protection from UVB rays, while SPF 100 offers a mere 2% increase in protection. More importantly, these SPF numbers only indicate to consumers how likely the product is to protect them from UVB rays that cause sunburns.

When on the hunt for a new bottle of sunscreen, pay less attention to the SPF number and look for a product like Thinksport sunscreen that features the phrase “broad-spectrum” on the packaging. If this phrase is missing, it is likely that that particular formula of sunscreen does not protect from both kinds of harmful rays.

So how does sunscreen work exactly?

The two types of sunscreen on the market, physical and chemical sunscreens, work differently to protect your body’s largest organ. Chemical sunscreens work to scatter or absorb the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreens may offer more coverage against both UVA and UVB rays, but the range of additional protection depends on the active ingredient and its stability. This type of sunscreen is typically a spray that is colorless and odorless. Unlike chemical sunscreen, physical sunscreen protects skin by deflecting or blocking the sun’s rays. A white-colored cream made of zinc oxide or titanium oxide acts as physical barrier between the skin and UV rays. Most skin types respond well to physical sunscreens, as they tend to lack chemicals that may cause irritation.

If you prefer chemical sunscreens, be careful to spray the entire surface of your skin. The spray-on application makes it easy to miss a spot — or a streak! — if you’re excited or in a hurry. You may want to spray a little more and rub the excess in, just in case. If you choose to use physical sunscreen, remember that in order to build a thick and complete barrier, be generous in your application of sunscreen. Allocate ¼ teaspoon for your face, another ¼ teaspoon for your neck and two tablespoons for your body. Even the best sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours.

My sunscreen is waterproof, sweatproof and tsunami proof… isn’t it?

Actually, no. In fact, the FDA now prohibits companies from using words like “sweatproof” and “waterproof” in advertising. In terms of water resistance, there are three types of sunscreen: non-water resistant, which makes no promise to offer protection once exposed to water; water resistant with 40 minutes of protection; and water resistant with 80 minutes of protection.

Thinksport sunscreen boasts the FDA’s highest possible rating: water resistant — 80 minutes. To be safe, always apply another layer of sunscreen after coming out of the water.

I’ve got a good base tan. Do I still need to wear sunscreen if I’m pretty sure I won’t get burned?

Naturally darker skin and skin that has darkened due to recent sun exposure offers a higher baseline protection faction, but it does not offer any sort of UV barrier. In terms of SPF, a “base tan” provides protection of a SPF 4. To protect yourself, regardless of how dark your skin currently is, apply sunscreen at regular intervals.

Should I wear sunscreen even on rainy days?

Yes! Even though it may take twice as long for you to burn, approximately 80 % of UV rays still penetrate through clouds and may cause damage to your skin. What’s more is that snow, sand, and water — puddles included! — can reflect UV rays back at you, putting you at additional risk. Rather than skipping sunscreen or applying a “lighter” version on overcast days, go ahead and use your best sunscreen of choice.

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