The sun is healthy for your body and mind. Natural sunlight provides vitamin D and acts as a mood booster. However, there is a dark side, and we’re not talking about the moon. We’re referring to ultraviolet rays, which can damage skin and cause sunburn, wrinkles, brown spots and even skin cancer.
Sunscreen helps you gain the health benefits of the sun without exposing you to health risks. How? By absorbing those ultraviolet rays so they don’t wreak havoc on your skin.
Not all sunscreens are created equal. You need to choose one with the right SPF or sun-protection factor, which measures how well a product absorbs ultraviolet rays. For example, if you choose an SPF of 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer than you can without sunscreen before burning. However, SPF protection does not increase proportionally with the numbers. An SPF of 2 will absorb 50% of UV radiation, an SPF of 15 will absorb 93%, and an SPF of 30 jumps just slightly to 97%. SPF 15 is recommended for most people, but those with fair skin should opt for higher.
It’s important to know that there are two types of ultraviolet rays: ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet A (UVA). UVB is responsible for nasty sunburn. UVA penetrates deeper to cause long-term aging and wrinkles.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVB and UVA. But keep in mind an SPF rating refers only to a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB rays. There is currently no FDA-approved system for rating UVA protection.
The key to making sunscreen work well is to apply it often and everywhere. If you’re swimming or sweating a lot, choose a sunscreen labeled “waterproof” rather than “water-resistant.” Waterproof sunscreen maintains its SPF level after 80 minutes of water exposure, while water-resistant lotions are effective for only 40 minutes of water exposure.
If you do get a sunburn, try treating it with cold compresses, aloe vera gel or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. For severe sunburn, see your primary care provider or go to an urgent care provider immediately.