While the first day of summer is still just around the corner, most of us have been basking in the warm weather for weeks now. I don’t know about you guys, but our winter was pretty miserable and I’m soaking up the 90 degree sunshine like a lizard that was just removed from a freezer. What can I say, I’m an Arizona girl living it up in North Carolina.
If you’re like me, you had to do the ol’ closet switcheroo (or, like me, multiple times because our weather was bipolar and just when I thought it was warm, it would snow and I’d have to dig the freshly packed away winter clothes out again), buy the kids new swimsuits and sandals, and plan vacations and trips to the pool/beach/lake. And of course, buy some sunscreen. Good ol’ sunscreen. It’s like a little tube with a superhero cape, standing between our skin and the dastardly deeds of melanoma. So what is sunscreen exactly? How does it work? What should we look for in a sunscreen? Let me, in my warm weather lizard giddiness, try to answer those questions for you.
First, let’s take a look at what exactly sunscreen protects us from. UVA and UVB are two different types of ultraviolet radiation that reaches our atmosphere from the sun. You can’t see them with your eyes, but they can fry up your eyeballs like a couple of seasoned eggs. UVA and UVB both are different wavelengths and act differently by nature, but are both equally damaging. UVA rays penetrate deeper and are responsible for most skin aging and wrinkles and is usually responsible for the start of skin cancers by damaging the DNA in our skin. UVB rays are shorter in wavelength, and cause more damage to the surface of the skin (think the redness of sunburn).
The sun’s gnarly side.
Sunscreen can be protective either chemically, physically, or both. Chemical ingredients in sunscreen absorb the evil rays and prevent them from penetrating your skin. Examples of these chemicals are avobenzone and oxybenzone. Physical ingredients actually cause the rays to bounce off the skin and usually are present as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Most sunscreens on the market contain a mixture of both, or “broad spectrum”. However, according to the Environmental Working Group, chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone are potential hormone disruptors, have a high risk of allergic reaction and have been found in the breastmilk of nursing mothers. Some people may prefer to use mineral sunscreens with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide instead, which can be harder to apply and leaves you looking like a snowman. Whatever you choose, it’s probably best to stick with the lotion/cream/stick sunscreens as the spray sunscreens are more likely to not be thoroughly applied and can also be inhaled. And remember, never apply sunscreen to babies under 6 months old.
This article is about summertime, but it’s also important to mention that it’s important to wear sunscreen year round. Sun reflecting off snow can be particularly damaging.
So what are you looking for in a sunscreen besides the type of ingredient you are most comfortable with? The sun protection factor, or SPF. SPF is a “rating” per say, that indicates how long it will take UVB (not UVA! Remember, those are responsible for the destruction under the superficial layer of skin) to redden your skin. So SPF 15 basically means it will take you an additional 15 minutes to burn. SPF 50 is recommended, and all sunscreens should be applied every few hours, more if you are sweating or swimming. Recently the FDA revised their rules regarding the wording and description on sunscreens, including banning the words “water proof”, although you may see “water resistant”. This means the sunscreen tends to stay on a bit longer in water than others, but you still need to reapply at least every 2 hours.
Sunglasses protect your eyes from the damaging effects of the sun. Remember, you only get one pair of eyes!
In addition to applying sunscreen, try to stay out of the sun between 10am and 4pm, wear protective hats and SPF clothing, don’t burn, don’t go to tanning beds, always keep babies out of direct sunlight, wear sunglasses that specifically say they contain UV filters, and eat lots of ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream. CarSeatBlog orders. Happy summer!!