One bad burn before the age of 16 doubles your chances of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer. There are more incidents of skin cancer than all of the other cancers combined.
Startling, right? The good news is that it is also the most preventable.
As we stumble into spring (some of us still experiencing stubborn remnants of winter), it is high time to begin focusing on the importance of sunscreen. The timeliness of safe sun care is a huge misconception in itself, as sun protection is all but seasonal. UVA rays are the same regardless if it’s January, April, or August, and you should consider sunscreen as a year-round effort, just like brushing your teeth. An effort so important, yet often overlooked.
Heading to the drugstore, you’re inundated by a vast number of sunscreens all touting different benefits and the promise of protection. There is definitely a lot of confusion about sunscreen, and it’s probably on purpose.
Here are the basic how-to's when it comes to selecting the right solution for you and your child:
- Understand SPF.
Consumers have been led to believe that ultra-high SPF numbers like 70 and 100 provide more protection than SPF 30. False. SPF 30 provides 97% protection from UVB, while SPF 100 provides 99% coverage for UVB. You’re basically getting a marginal increase in protection. And unfortunately, the chemicals that are used to boost SPF are not favorable. Look at the back of the tube. See a bunch of words you don’t recognize? You don’t want to put that on your skin. The FDA has since set a SPF 50+ limit.
Also, SPF is merely a measure of UVB (Think “B” for burn). The ultra-high SPF numbers have caused people to spend far more time outside than they should be. SPF doesn’t provide any insight into UVA protection. UVA is the one that’s linked to skin damage and harmful forms of skin cancer. So it’s really important that you’re using a truly broad-spectrum formula that covers UVA and UVB. If the front of the tube doesn’t say broad-spectrum, don’t purchase that formula.
- Chemical versus Mineral Sunscreen.
There are two types of sunscreens on the market: chemical and mineral-based solutions. Mineral-based solutions, with their Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide active ingredients, are safest but can cause some amount of whitening during use and are also more expensive. Unfortunately, chemical sunscreens, which generate free radicals and contain questionable ingredients, make up the majority of the market. They are both cheap and apply clearly. But at what cost is it cheaper?
- Water Resistance
There are now three levels of water resistance. Not water resistant, water resistant (40 minutes) and water resistant (80 minutes). We have all become used to seeing words like “sweatproof” or “waterproof”. The FDA has done away with that terminology. To achieve the SPF factor of your sunscreen, you have to reapply every two hours or upon getting out of the water. One application does not keep you at SPF 50 or whatever is on the sunscreen label. And you should be using about 1oz to cover an adult body.
- Aerosols and Wipes
A lot of consumers like sprays and wipes due to the ease of application. But who knows what you and your children are inhaling? Also, a recent study showed that parents were applying only 25% of the right amount of sunscreen. SPF is a logarithmic function. So 25% of SPF 50 actually means you’re getting something closer to SPF 3. People end up spending more time out in the sun not realizing that they’re getting a heavily reduced protection from UVB. And it is scary to think how much UVA that they are consuming.
- Other Sun Safety Tips
Pack protective clothing—hats, long sleeves, and sunglasses on your next outdoor adventure, and stay out of the sun during peak UVA and UVB hours of 10am to 4pm. Use umbrellas or setup for outdoor activities in the shade. Remember that overcast days do not mean you’re not getting UV exposure. And finally, use safe, non-toxic sunscreen.
Luckily, there is a database by the Environmental Working Group that provides unbelievable support in locating information relating to sunscreen ingredients. It’s our duty to protect our skin and that of our children. After all, skin is our largest organ.