Not all sunscreens are created equal. Before you exercise the right to bare arms this summer, know what’s actually on drugstore shelves, and consider other options for protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
The ABCs of SPF: The SPF rates how effective the sunscreen is in preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays. If you’d normally burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go 150 minutes before burning. Dermatologists urge going with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 per cent of the sun’s rays – with those carrying higher SPF values blocking slightly more. No sunscreen can actually block 100 per cent of the sun’s rays. And regardless of what SPF you slather on, the experts advise re-applying every two hours for the best protection.
Unfortunately, there is no rating to tell you how good a sunscreen is at blocking UVA rays, so when it comes to UVA protection, you need to read ingredients. Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following: ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide.
No kidding around: Babies under the age of six months should avoid direct sun exposure, if possible, and since sunscreens may affect their sensitive skin adversely, newborns shouldn’t wear it.
Doctors advise keeping babies in the shade, or if they will be exposed to the sun, dressing them in long sleeves, wide-brimmed hats, pants and even sunglasses. And for children past the six month mark, sunscreens containing zinc or titanium dioxide are best, as it they will not absorb into the skin.
One alternative is choosing garments with UPF labels. UPF, a concept standardized in Australia in 1996, stands for ultraviolet protection factor, which quantifies piece of clothing’s effectiveness in shielding against the sun. A shirt with a UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach your skin, and would provide excellent sun protection, in contrast to a thin cotton T-shirt, which has a UPF of five, which allows 1/5th of the sun’s UV through — more when wet. In studies done in Australia, Lycra/elastane fabrics were most likely to have UPFs of 50 or higher, followed by nylon and polyester.
Explore your shady side: Science supports the benefits of using sunscreen in minimizing short- and long-term damage from time spent in the sun. But the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that, along with sporting sunscreen, people should seek out shade, wear hats, sunglasses and protective clothing and avoid tanning beds, to truly reduce the risk of skin cancer.
What’s your type? Though the pros say that choosing the right sunscreen is a personal matter, there are a few guidelines to keep in mind before reaching for that gel, stick, cream or spray. Creams are best for dry areas of skin and the face, while gels work best on hairy spots like the scalp or a man’s chest, and sticks work well for using around the eyes. Sprays are also a popular choice, especially by parents who are tasked with applying them to their children, or men with a balding scalp – but one downside is it’s hard to tell if enough has been applied for protection to all exposed parts.
Be generous, but careful: When applying sunscreen, the experts advocate being generous, to ensure you achieve the UV protection dictated on the label of the product. Never spray products directly into your face or mouth, but instead spray into your hand, then apply it to the face. And in terms of what that right quantity looks like, the rule of thumb prescribed by dermatologists for adults is one teaspoon to the face and scalp and each arm, and two to the torso and to each leg.