Sunscreens offer protection against the most common types of skin cancers, so choosing the right sunscreen and using it are important precautions. Unfortunately, choosing among the thousands of brands, SPF ratings and types of sun exposure often seems like task suitable for engineers or rocket scientists.
Understanding Sunscreen Protection
Exposing your skin to the sun causes basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. Each year, the number of skin cancers increase, and 3.5 million cases affect more than two million people. The skin provides natural sunscreen protection factor or SPF through the melanin or pigment that the skin cells produce. Caucasian skin has an SPF rating that averages 3.4 while African-American skin averages 13.4, so Caucasians are more likely to get skin cancer. Even people who have the darkestskin need some protection from the sun’s rays because the recommended level of SPF protection is 15 for blocking ultraviolet B rays. Other factors to consider:
- SPF doesn’t measure how well sunscreens block ultraviolet A rays, which also cause cancer and premature aging.
- People with very fair skin should choose sunscreens with SPFs of 30 or higher.
- If you normally burn after 10 minutes of exposure, SPF 15 multiples the time by a factor of 15.
- Broad-spectrum sunscreens offer the best protection.
- Look for sunscreens with FDA-approved ingredients like benzophenones (oxybenzone), sulisobenzone, cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), titanium dioxide, salicylates, zinc oxide, ecamsule (Mexoryl SX) and avobenzone (Parsol 1789), which provide broad-spectrum protection.
How You Use Sunscreen Is the Most Important Factor
You can develop skin cancers, wrinkles and other disorders from too much exposure to the sun’s radiation. SPF provides limited protection, but you must use it correctly. Simple tips help to limit your risks:
- Higher SPF ratings provide longer and not better protection, but if you burn, you defeat the primary purpose for using sunscreen.
- Limit the exposure of infants and children to sunlight, and use a sunscreen made for them with the highest SPF available.
- If going in and out of the water, choose a sunscreen that is water-resistant.
- Use one ounce of sunscreen every two hours, and reapply sunscreen when sweating excessively.
- Seek shade periodically, and avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day between 10 a.m. And 4 p.m.
Choosing a sunscreen is simpler when you understand how you are protected, and using the product correctly provides the best protection from the various dangers generated by overexposure to the sun. Other reasons for choosing sunscreens apply to skin conditioning and cosmetic preferences.