Whether they’re headed for the beach, grabbing their gardening tools, hitting the golf course, or relaxing on their porch, some people just can’t get enough of the sun. Being outside provides the chance to get some exercise, and many outdoor activities bring fulfillment and joy.
There’s a downside to spending lots of time outside, though. Unprotected exposure to the sun can lead to painful sunburn and even skin cancer. As a matter of fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The good news is that the right sunscreen can help you enjoy the sun safely.
Even if you’ve spent years throwing caution to the wind while basking in the sun, it’s never too late. Skin cancer is the result of years of accumulated damage, so taking precautions now could make a big difference.
The following tips can help you to choose a sunscreen that will offer the protection you need.
Physical Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Any sunscreen you choose will fall into one of two categories: physical or chemical.
Physical sunscreen acts as a barrier on your skin. It will usually contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. One of the advantages of this type of sunscreen is that it begins acting immediately after you put it on. It’s also a good choice if you have sensitive skin or are prone to rosacea or acne.
Chemical sunscreen contains carbon-based compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and avobenzone. These ingredients act like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. Chemical sunscreens are lighter weight than physical sunscreens, making them a little easier to spread on your skin. They also absorb more completely, so you won’t see any white residue after you apply them.
Factors to Consider
In order to get the best sun protection, there are a few more things you should know before you choose a sunscreen.
Look For Broad Spectrum Protection
All sunscreens protect against UVB rays. These are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. A broad spectrum sunscreen is effective against these, but it also offers protection against UVA rays. These rays also contribute to skin cancer. Products that don’t protect against both kinds of rays are required to state on their label that they only protect against sunburn, not skin cancer or aging.
Choose the Right SPF
SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and can help you determine how effective your sunscreen will be. Look for a sunscreen with an SPF between 30 and 50, which will block 97 to 98 percent of the sun’s harmful UVB rays. It is true that a higher number means more protection, however, that additional protection is slight. For example, SPF 50 will block 98% of UV rays, but SPF 100 blocks 99%. The FDA requires sunscreens with an SPF below 15 to carry a warning that they protect against sunburn, but not against skin cancer or aging.
Look For Water Resistant Sunscreen
Even if you don’t plan on swimming, it’s a good idea to choose a water resistant sunscreen. Water resistant sunscreens are also sweat resistant, so they’ll keep working even if the heat causes you to perspire. As with all sunscreens, it’s a good idea to reapply every 2 hours, possibly more often if you are swimming or sweating. Additionally, drying off with a towel can rub off your sunscreen, so you should reapply then as well.
A Few More Precautions
No sunscreen offers complete protection, but you can maximize your sun protection by using enough sunscreen (most adults require about enough to fill a shot glass to cover their whole bodies) and reapplying often.
You can also limit your sun exposure by choosing clothing that covers you up, putting on a wide-brimmed hat, and wearing sunglasses that filter out UV light. Since the sun is the strongest between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, it’s best to limit your sun exposure during these times. The sun’s rays are the strongest in the summer, but you will want to protect your skin all year round.
With the right protection, you can enjoy all the summer has to offer without the fear of sunburn or more serious damage.
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