Regular use of sunblock or sunscreen may be the single most important thing you can do for your skin, not only to slow the outward signs of aging, but also to protect your health throughout your lifetime.
Knowing a little about the SPF system can help you choose an effective sun protection product. Products described as “sunblock” contain ingredients that reflect the sun’s rays away from the body, while the ingredients in “sunscreen” absorb the sun’s rays like a sponge. Both sunblock and sunscreen are equally effective. Parents should also research what specific products are appropriate for their little ones.
Any sunblock or sunscreen with SPF 15 or above will help block out many of the sun’s most damaging rays. Make sure the product you choose works effectively in the broad spectrum, protecting you against both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA rays are always present no matter what the weather is like and can penetrate clothing, causing damage to your subdermal layers. UVB rays are shorter and generally responsible for sunburn and other visible sun damage.
Numbers can be confusing on the SPF scale and don’t correspond proportionally to increased protection. For example, a product of SPF 15 should block out about 93% of rays, while SPF 30 products protect against 97% and products with SPF 50 about 98%. Most experts suggest using SPF 35 to 40 if you plan on being out in the sun for an extended period of time. Remember that no matter the SPF rating, no sunblock or sunscreen blocks out the sun’s rays 100%.
Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside, then reapply at least every two hours and immediately after bathing, swimming, or excessive sweating. Rub a generous amount into the skin until it’s completely absorbed. Be sure to apply on areas that are usually missed, such as behind the ears, on the lips, and on the tip of the nose.
Protecting yourself as much as possible against sun damage will not only help keep you healthy, it will also help you avoid wrinkles and skin discoloration as you age. For increased protection, you should also try to keep yourself covered with long sleeves and a hat whenever possible. Also consider driving with light gloves to protect your hands.
Keep in mind that melanoma affects 1 out of every 54 Americans. Nevertheless, melanoma is usually avoidable if you take the right precautions. Enjoy your time in the sun, but remember that sunblock or sunscreen itself is not enough!
Nina Gaetano, BS, PA-C, is the medical director of Bella Sol Med Spa