‘Tis the season of sun and beach, of enjoying the outdoors more than ever, but be it at the beach or in the mountains, being exposed to the sun carries some risks for our health that we can easily prevent by applying sunscreen before the fun starts. However, as with so many other things in life, it’s not enough knowing you have to do it; it’s just as important to do it right. Keep on reading to make sure you know how to apply sunscreen correctly and keep your skin protected not only during summer but all year round.
One of the most efficient ways to encourage ourselves to follow a recommendation is knowing why must we do it. So:
Why is applying sunscreen important?
Most of us has probably had some part of our skin sunburned in our life, with all the nasty consequences it entails: itchiness (even pain), dry skin peeling off after a few days, having to stay away from the sun, oversensitivity to clothes and even permanent marks in our skin such as dark or light spots. But it’s not only the short term after-effects you need to be wary of, but the long term ones as well, such as wrinkles, sagging, melanin deposits and skin cancer. In fact, in the U.S. one in every five people will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their life, and every hour, one person dies because of its most terrible form: melanoma. However, one measure that notably reduces health risks to your skin is applying sunscreen correctly. Sunscreen protects your skin from the harmful rays of the sun (UVA and UVB) and prevents that dreaded sunburn, tan marks and even helps you be less dependent on skin repairing and anti-aging cosmetics.
None of this means you need to say goodbye to your beloved activities in the open air, on the contrary, knowing what is at stake may help you protect yourself and your loved ones better and stay healthy while you enjoy your time off.
Now, you head to the store and you’re overwhelmed with the array of products offered. Where to start?
How to choose the most appropriate sunscreen
First of all, let’s check the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number, which indicates the amount of time extra you can be under the sun as opposed to not having any sun protection. For example, if you get sunburned after 10 minutes of being exposed to the sun, with a 30 SPF you would be able to stay 30 times longer (that is, 300 minutes, or 5 hours). The factor to choose will depend on your skin type, of course, and no one better to know that than yourself. However, as a rule of thumb, SPF 15 and 30 are more suitable for skins that take longer to get burned or that are naturally darker, while SPF 50 and higher are more appropriate for children and pale skins.
But what does SPF protect us from, actually? When applying sunscreen, we’re blocking harmful Ultra Violet (UV) rays from the sun, which would otherwise get into our skin and cause damage to the tissues. These UV rays can be of type A or B and, without getting into too much detail, you would want protection from both, therefore look for a lotion that says “broad spectrum”, as these have been tested against both types and different wavelengths.
Once you know which SPF is better for you, choose the type of cream that suits the activity you will be doing. In general, when talking about sports and outdoors activities, especially in the summer, we’ll be looking for water resistant sunscreens, as they will perform better against our sweat and if we get in contact with water. Sun lotions these days come in more shapes and forms than ever, the latest ones probably being in sticks and mist sprays. Sprays are quite practical, as they are easy to apply and are quite useful in hairy or broad areas (even to get to your scalp!) of the body, but make sure the product actually reaches your skin and is not carried away by the breeze, otherwise you wouldn’t be protected. Sticks are useful for small areas like hands and the face, and it’s easier to prevent the chemicals getting in touch with your eyes.
Regardless of the way in which they are presented, you can find sunscreens that are physical or chemical. The first ones literally create a barrier over your skin through which the sun rays cannot penetrate. This is the case of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The latter ones (and most common) contain chemicals that will work once they have penetrated in your skin, to absorb the rays of the sun, therefore preventing damage to the tissues.
Make sure you take into account not only your skin tone to find the most appropriate SPF but also the type of skin you have (sensitive, greasy, non-greasy, etc) and test the lotion on a small part of your wrist before applying to the whole body. Especially for the face, and if you are prone to acne, you may want to look out for water-based or “non-comedogenic” creams.
How to apply sunscreen correctly
Before we get into the “how” let’s make sure we know “when” we need to apply sunscreen. In this case, “when” refers to two different things: one, the activity; and two, the timeframe. Any activity outside, even on a cloudy day, will expose your skin to UV rays, so applying sunscreen is important not only when you go to the beach or do watersports, but also in other open air events such as sightseeing or even working on your garden.
Another important and often overlooked factor is applying the sunscreen at least 20 to 30 minutes before being under the sun, especially in the case of chemical sunscreens, as these take some time to be absorbed by the skin and be effective. Physical sunscreens are effective immediately after being applied. Either chemical or physical, remember to apply a new layer after being in the water or after 90 minutes or 2 hours at most and always cover all exposed areas. For better results, it is recommended to apply sunscreen before putting on clothes, swim gear or jewelry, so as to avoid tan marks and missed spots.
After following these steps all you have to do is get ready to enjoy your next outdoors adventure!
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- How to Apply Sunscreen, www.wikihow.com
- Sunscreen: How to Select, Apply, and Use It Correctly, www.webmd.com