There's nothing quite like the feeling of the warm sun on your skin after a long, dreary winter. But if you're not careful, that glorious sunshine can do significant damage to your skin.
How the Sun Affects Your Skin
Overexposure to the sun's UV rays can cause painful sunburns, but that's not all. Sun damage can also cause premature aging and wrinkles and hasten the appearance of red veins and blotchiness. Compare the skin of an older person who has used sunscreen regularly with the complexion of someone who didn't, and you will definitely see a difference. As you're probably aware, overexposure to the sun can even cause skin cancer. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 90 percent of all non-melanoma skin cancers, and up to 65 percent of all melanoma cases are due in part to overexposure to the sun. When compared with the alternatives, the brief moment that it takes to put on sunscreen is clearly time well spent.
When Should You Wear Sunscreen?
Most of us are cautious enough to don sunscreen when spending the day at a sunny beach, but sun damage can occur more easily than many people assume. A few minutes in direct sunlight may be enough to cause skin damage, and UV rays can even cause damage on cloudy days. Experts recommend that sunscreen be used any time skin is exposed to the sunlight, even on a cloudy day.
How Does Sunscreen Work?
Sunscreen is made up of a mixture of ingredients that can be quite effective at protecting the skin against harmful ultraviolet radiation. Some absorb UV rays and convert them to heat; others reflect ultraviolet light away from the body. In keeping UV light from reaching the lower layers of the skin, sunscreen helps prevent short-term damage such as sunburns, but it also staves off long-term risk factors such as wrinkles and melanoma.
What Does SPF Mean?
You've probably noticed that each bottle of sunscreen has an SPF label. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The higher the SPF rating, the more effective the sunscreen is at protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays. Generally speaking, you'll want to choose a sunscreen that bears an SPF rating of at least 30, though you certainly can't go wrong with a higher SPF product.
The Correct Way to Use Sunscreen
As previously mentioned, sunscreen should be worn even on days when a sunburn seems like an extremely remote possibility â€“ Just ask any snowboarder! It's important to remember that you may need to reapply your sunscreen, especially if you're spending a long time in the sun, swimming, or performing strenuous physical activities that cause you to sweat. Plan on applying a fresh coat of sunscreen every 20-30 minutes. Water-resistant sunscreens may provide protection for 40 minutes to an hour, but it's always best to err on the side of caution. To be safe, apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before exposing your skin to the sun. Early application allows the skin to better absorb the sunscreen, and provides better protection. Breaking out the sunscreen before arriving at the beach also makes it easier to protect children, who tend to get caught up in the excitement and forget to protect themselves. After all, who cares about UV rays when there are sandcastles to build?
Sunscreen Buying Tips
There are many different brands and types of sunscreen. So how exactly should you choose one? For starters, seek out a broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher. If you're going to be exercising or spending any time in water, then opt for a waterproof sunscreen. If you're PABA-sensitive, choose a brand that doesn't contain para-aminobenzoic acid, and if you tend to develop skin blemishes, be sure to always select a water-based product.
Don't Use Expired Sunscreen
Like many types of medication, sunscreen contains ingredients that can degrade over time. When that happens, its effectiveness can be severely diminished. It may be tempting to use expired sunscreen, but protecting your skin is no place to cut corners. Always be sure to discard outdated products, and replenish when needed.
Enjoy the Sun!
Stay safe, protect your skin, and above all, have a great time out there!