What You Really Need to Know About Sunscreen

Yes, yes, sunscreen is important. But raise your hand if you’ve ever applied it while standing on the patio. Or wondered what variety to buy. It’s time to set your mind at rest! And hopefully avoid summer burn.

First, a debunking: SPF 30 does not work twice as well, or twice as long, as SPF 15. Learn more below.

Second, a reminder: Sunscreen should be worn every day, summer or not. Really. Dermatologists recommend at least 15 SPF to protect again damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays. And it takes time to sink in, so apply sunscreen before the patio, about 20-30 minutes before going outside.

Types of UV Rays

The sun produces three kinds of UV rays: A (long-wave), B (short-wave) and C. A is most common, abundant, and deep penetrating, so that’s what you’re most protecting against. Some of B can get through too, but all of C rays are blocked by the earth’s atmosphere.

How Sunscreen Works

Sunscreens form a barrier between the sun’s energy and your skin. Some of the ingredients reflect rays, and others absorb them, cutting back the amount of dangerous energy that reaches your skin.

SPF Explained

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, and is an indication of effectiveness in blocking burning UVB rays. It’s a relative scale: SPF 30 blocks more UVB rays than SPF 15, but not twice as many. The difference is in small percentages: SPF 90 protects again 99 percent of rays, SPF 50 against 98, and SPF 30 against 96 percent. (Note: The SPF number does not measure UVA-blocking effectiveness at all.)

What to Buy

Sunscreens are supposed to last for three years. If yours has changed color, smell or consistency, ditch it! Make sure to buy “Broad Spectrum” sunscreen, so that you’re protecting yourself from both types (A & B) of harmful UV rays.

How to Apply

In short, most people don’t use enough. An “average-sized” person should use one ounce of sunscreen to cover their entire body, which means one-eighth of a common 8 ounce bottle. And that’s just one application; you should reapply every two hours you stay in the sun, and more often if you are sweating or swimming.

Now lather up! Your skin, eyes, and entire immune system will be grateful.

Learn more about sun protection via The Environmental Protection Agency.

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