To Slather or To Spray…The Skinny on Sunscreens
On your last beach trip while you were lounging in the sand, did you notice people using sunscreen sprays? Was the spray blowing everywhere except on the skin of the person where it was supposed to go? Alas, the problem with convenience. Using a spray sounds like a good idea until you are on the beach with the wind blowing. Some common sense is in order here. Better to apply before you get to the beach. Actually, it’s better to apply any sunscreen product before going to the beach. The product needs to be on your skin 20 minutes prior to sun exposure.
I Love Being In The Sun. What’s The Harm?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer and is directly related to sun exposure. But it’s not just cancer you must worry about. As we get older there are annoying skin changes such as age spots and actinic lesions, those crusty spots we typically see on balding heads. Of course, other than cancer, the ultimate insult that sun causes is wrinkles. We pay a high price for those tans.
Sunscreens. So Many Options. How To Choose.
First, find the SPF or sun protection factor listed on the label. SPF is a measure of the sunscreen’s ability to protect against ultraviolet rays (UV), primarily the B type. UVB is responsible for sunburns, hyperpigmentation (those nasty dark areas), and skin changes leading to cancer. UVA accounts for most UV rays and is responsible for the aging effects. Sunscreens with both A and B protection are broad spectrum, another feature you want in the product. The American Academy of Dermatology says that everyone should use an SPF of 30. SPF 15 can be used by dark skinned people, who, by the way, still need protection. There is very little benefit to using an SPF higher than 50. Protection is never 100% regardless of the SPF. Next, look for the term water resistant or very water resistant. This means the sun protection will last 40 minutes if you are in the water and up to 80 minutes for the very water resistant type. Labels should not say “water proof” because there is no such product that can guarantee this. A list of effective (and not so effective) sunscreens for every budget can be found at the July 2018 issue of Consumer Reports and at https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/sunscreens/buying-guide/index.htm
How to Make It Work
Oh, if only we did one application and off we go to spend hours in the sun. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Like some other things in life, sunscreen goes away. It must be reapplied every 2 hours and after swimming. Use one ounce to cover all exposed areas ( a shot glass full). Another way to estimate is to use one teaspoon for face/neck, one for each arm, one for each leg, one for the back. Most people do not apply enough. How about the sprays? They don’t work quite as well but if you love your spray, do this: Spray into your hand then apply to the skin. You get much better coverage that way. Another downside of sprays is inhaling the fumes. Spraying directly in the face is not safe.
Some Final Thoughts About Sunscreens. Harmful Chemicals?
Environmentalists are concerned about the ingredient oxybenzone which has been shown to damage coral reefs through bleaching. Some people are concerned that it may cause cancer. Damage to the coral reef is a real problem but so far there has been no harm to humans. Sunscreens that use mineral or “natural” agents, such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, do not provide the SPF protection that other products provide, according to the July 2018 issue of Consumers Reports. Last, but certainly not least, sunscreens cannot offer full protection regardless of the SPF. It is always best to use barrier clothing such as hats, swim tees (some very nice ones at Lands End), and any clothing with UV protection. No matter what your age, be nice to your skin this summer. Lather up!