What’s Your Sunscreen IQ?

All the sunshine looks the same to us, but did you know there are two kinds of ultraviolet radiation to protect against? And that not all sunscreen products protect against both types of radiation? Improve your sunscreen IQ with this info.

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Ultraviolet B, or UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while ultraviolet A, or UVA, rays are associated with wrinkling and aging. “UVA is responsible for the breakdown of collagen – which causes cumulative, long-term aging,” says Dr. Terry Layman, OurHealth medical director. “UVB is responsible for the bad stuff like sunburns and skin cancer.”

However, sunscreen varies in its ability to protect against UVA and UVB. Here are our tips on understanding sunscreen characteristics and minimizing sun damage to your skin

What does SPF mean?

SPF stands for sun protection factor, a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from reddening the skin. But what SPF indicates can often cause confusion. SPF indicates how long sunscreen will protect skin from reddening compared to going without.

For example, with a sun protection factor of 15, or SPF 15, the sunscreen should protect your skin from reddening 15 times longer than going without it. So, if your skin would redden after 1 minute in the sun without sunscreen, an SPF-15 product protects you for 15 minutes and an SPF-30 would protect you for 30 minutes.

However, no sunscreen can totally block out all UVB rays –  so reapplying regularly is key because sweat and water can quickly diminish its effectiveness. “Reapply every 2 hours at a minimum,” Layman says.

What to look for

You may have noticed we didn’t mention the UVA type of solar radiation when talking about SPF. That’s because SPF only indicates protection sunburn and UVB rays, not the deeper-penetrating UVA rays that still damage our skin. “Get a sunscreen that covers both,” Layman says. Sunscreens that protect against UVA and UVB are typically marketed as “broad spectrum.”

With so many summer activities around the pool, beach, or lake, you may be looking for sun protection that’s waterproof. Keep in mind the FDA’s advice is that no sunblock is truly waterproof. If a sunscreen says it is water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes, that means you can expect to get the labeled SPF-level of protection while swimming or sweating for that length of time. But once you get out of the water, you need to reapply sunscreen as soon as you’ve dried off to stay protected.

Other Ways to Protect Your Skin

  • Seek shade during midday (from 10 AM to 4 PM) when the sun’s rays are strongest
  • Wear sun-protective clothing such as long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses
  • Get screened at least once a year for discolorations or moles that may be early warning signs of skin cancer

OurHealth members can schedule an appointment for a skin cancer screening today online at the OurHealth Portal or by calling (866) 434-3255.