What you need to know to protect your skin

There’s something that feels so good about getting outside and soaking up some sun—not to mention the vitamin D boost you can get.

Whether you’re heading out for daily walks, hopping on a bike or heading for a beach vacation for a little R&R, it’s a good idea to brush up on Sunscreen 101. It can literally save your skin.

All skin needs protection from the sun’s harmful rays. It doesn’t matter if your skin tone is light, dark, or in between. But not all sunscreen products are created equal and their labels can be confusing. Let’s go through some of the basics so you can pick the best products for you.

UVA vs UVB: What’s the difference?

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of the natural energy produced by the sun. Prolonged exposure to UV radiation is also a major risk factor for sun-damaged skin.

What’s the difference between the rays and the damage they can do to your skin? Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are known as the burning rays. They penetrate and can damage the top layers of your skin. Too much exposure causes sunburn and even blistering.

But the intensity of UVB rays fluctuates during the day. You need more protection from them when the sun’s rays are the strongest, typically from late morning to mid-afternoon in most climates. These rays can also damage your skin year-round because they can reflect off surfaces like ice and snow.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays are known as the aging rays. They are more prevalent and absorb deeper into your skin, causing the pigment there to darken. These rays can pass through windows in your home or vehicle and are present even on cloudy days. It’s also the type of UV radiation associated with tanning beds.

What is broad spectrum protection?

Broad spectrum protection means it protects against UVA and UVB rays. If the label doesn’t indicate broad spectrum, then it only protects against UVB rays.

When selecting a sunscreen to apply all over your body – from the tops of your ears to the tips of your toes – pick a broad spectrum formula.

girl smiling on beach

What does SPF stand for?

All sunscreens have an SPF, or sun protection factor. In general, this number tells you how long it would take the sun’s UV rays to make your skin red when you are using the sunscreen, compared to how long it would take to redden your skin if you were not wearing it.

For example, if you rub sunscreen with an SPF 30 into your skin, it would take about 30 times longer for your skin to burn than if you were not wearing any protection. But the intensity of the sun exposure matters. People can burn more quickly at different times of day. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends using sunscreen with SPF 30 as a minimum.

Is there really any difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50?

Once your SPF numbers get to 30 and above, there is a bit of a difference between them, but not a lot.

An SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays from the sun, an SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and an SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. Nothing blocks 100% of the sun’s harmful rays, but every little bit helps—even the 1 percent difference between 30 and 50.

Also important: Using a higher number does not mean you can stay in the sun longer. No matter what SPF level you’re using, sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours when you’re outside and more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating.

What type of sunscreen should I use for my face?

“Scientists look to protect skin from any pigmentation”. That ‘tan’ is actually a visible indication of deeper damage being done. Not all skin responds the same to sun – but all skin needs sunscreen.”

That means your morning skin care routine should include sunscreen. You can make it easy by choosing products that already include it. Choose the one made with clean ingredients and that best fits your skin’s needs. There are 1400+ ingredients which considered as iffy ingredients and should be avoided as much as possible.

Does sunscreen expire?

If you’re spending a lot of time outside and using as much sunscreen as you should, you likely won’t have to think about this question. But we’ve all found that forgotten bottle somewhere and wondered: Is it still good?

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration requires all sunscreens to have a printed expiration date unless it’s been proven to remain effective for at least 3 years. If there’s no printed date and you know it’s older than three years, throw it out.

After those deadlines, there is no guarantee the sunscreens are providing any protection.

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