Sunscreen Decoded

What does SPF means?

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, indicates how long it will take for UVB rays to redden skin when using a sunscreen, compared to how long skin would take to redden without the product.  UVB rays cause sunburn and can contribute to skin cancer, however we now also know that UVA rays also contribute to both photo-aging and skin cancer as well.  UVA contributes to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers.  Therefore, the SPF is only telling you how much protection you are getting from the UVB rays, and not the damaging UVA rays!

What is broad spectrum protection?

Broad spectrum simply means that it blocks BOTH UVA and UVB rays. Therefore, you MUST always choose a sunscreen that is broad spectrum.

But what SPF level should I use?

While certain oils and lotions with low SPF are labeled as sunscreen, I always recommend using a sunscreen with at least SPF 30.  Beyond 30, the protection gained becomes negligible.  To give you an idea of how well you are protected, SPF 15 blocks 94% of rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, SPF 50 blocks 98%, and SPF 100 block 99% of rays. But be careful! Just because you use a sunscreen with a higher SPF does NOT mean you are protected for a greater length of time – you must reapply EVERY 2 HOURS. 

Do the ingredients in sunscreen matter?

Yes!!!  Broad spectrum sunscreens contain either chemical blockers or physical blockers.  Physical blockers such as Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide are more effective and are my ingredients of choice. Make sure that these ingredients are listed in the active ingredients of the sunscreen you choose. 

How often should you reapply?

I recommend reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours if you are consistently outside.

Should I use sprays or lotions?

I don’t love sprays simply because I don’t like the idea of inhaling all of those chemicals. 

I always sit in the shade so I don’t need sunscreen, right?

This is a common misconception.  While sitting in the shade generally protects you from getting a sunburn, sand and water can still reflect UV radiation, so you are still exposed! Similarly, even if it is a cloudy day, UV rays can break through a cloud cover.   I am a huge fan of sun protective clothing. As someone who lives at the beach, you will always see me in a rash guard and wide brimmed hat.

I wear sunscreen every time I go outside – what else can I do?

Make sure that you are protecting every part of your body – ears, neck, feet, head, and lips are often neglected.   Remember to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before exposure, not when you get to the pool.  Hats, lip balm, and shoes can all help protect exposed parts that are often forgotten.