90% of skin changes are all caused by the sun’s ultraviolet rays. There are two kinds of UV rays to worry about – UV-A and UV-B. Most sunscreens work on minimizing the effect of UV-B rays, which are linked to skin cancer. But studies have also shown that UV-A rays not only increase skin cancer risk, but also causes wrinkles. In fact, as per the Environmental Protection Agency, most of the skin changes related to ageing are due to exposure to the sun’s rays.
But does this mean you should become a vampire and live indoors? Inadequate exposure to the sun also reduces your vitamin D levels, which means you don’t necessarily have to strike out sunbathing off your schedule. The trick is to get the optimum sun exposure – with the right protection of course. And this is where sunscreens come in. In fact it has already been proven that regular application of sunscreen prevents melanoma.
Common Misconception About Sunscreen
You may have been brainwashed into thinking that when you buy sunscreen, you should only check the SPF rating and higher the value, the better protection you have. But that’s a common misconception. The SPF or sun protection value only indicates how well it will work against UV-B rays, conveniently leaving out UV-A rays.
As per David J. Leffell, MD, professor of dermatology and surgery at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn, “A few years ago, choosing a good sunscreen meant you just looked for a high sun protection factor (SPF) — which rates how well the sunscreen protects against one type of cancer-causing UV ray, ultraviolet B (UVB.) SPF refers to blockage of UVB rays only.”
The Sunscreen Checklist
Choosing a sunscreen is no laughing matter. Not only do you have to factor in both UV-A and UV-B rays, you need to choose a product to match your health and habits. Here’s a brief checklist.
1. When in doubt, go for SPF 15 or higher. This basically means if you’re likely to get a burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 will protect you for 150 minutes. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, a higher SPF is recommended. However don’t be beguiled by numbers. An SPF 30 might save you for a longer duration but it filters out 97% of UV-B compared to SPF-15’s 93%.
2. Look for these ingredients. This is for the UV-A rays. Keep an eye out for at least one of the following compounds – ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide. While ecamsule is perhaps the most expensive, you can always go for zinc oxide or titanium dioxide if you’re on a budget.
3. Take a look at your exercise habits. If you’re an athlete or a swimmer, get a sunscreen that is resistant to water and sweat.
4. Choose milder sunscreens for kids or if you have a skin allergy. If you have very sensitive skin that is easily irritated by chemicals, go for sunscreens without para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzephenones like dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone and instead contain the tried and trusted zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
And finally, don’t judge a sunscreen by the brand. Buy one that fits your needs, use it for some time and if it works well, stick to it.
Featured photo credit: Ed Gregory via stokpic.com
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