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Shedding Light on Sunscreens
Mineral or chemical? SPF 15 or 40? We're here to answer all your burning questions, with expert advice from dermatologist Dr. Melissa Piliang from the Cleveland Clinic.
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Tis the season to be…sunburned.
With the exception of our readers in the Southern Hemisphere who are donning jackets and gloves right about now, we‘re smack in the middle of the most wonderful time of the year.
☀️ The sun is the best natural source of Vitamin D, essential for calcium absorption and to keep our nerves, muscles and immune system in tiptop shape.
☀️The sun contains potent and invisible UV rays, which can burn our skin pretty badly if we stay out too long and/or are not protected. This can lead to skin cancers. Those rays can also harm our eyes and raise the risk of problems like cataracts, sunburned eyes and even eye cancer.
☀️Premature aging of the skin. Thickened, leathery skin. Lines and wrinkles. Uneven skin tone.
thePause and Dr. Melissa Piliang are here to shed light on all things sun. Here’s how to be sun-wise all year long.
What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays? Are they both dangerous?
UVA is slightly longer wavelength than UVB. Because of the longer wavelength, UVA rays can penetrate deeper into the skin, causing more skin aging than UVA. But it’s important to note that both UVA and UVB are dangerous and cause skin cancer.
Do we still need sunscreen if we’re indoors? For instance, what if we are sitting near a window on a sunny day?
We do need sunscreen every day – even when we will be inside.
About 50% of UVA rays can penetrate window glass, so it is important to protect your skin when near windows, even when you’re in the car. And many people don’t realize that fluorescent lights, like the lights in our homes and offices, emit UV rays.
Always add sunscreen to your morning skin care regimen – no matter what the weather or where you will be.
True or False: I don’t need to bother wearing sunscreen on a cloudy day.
False! About 80% of the sun’s rays pass through clouds, so you can get a significant sunburn even on a cloudy day.
What's the difference between mineral and chemical sunscreens?
Mineral sunscreens contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and are physical blockers. That means they act like a shield of sorts– rather than get absorbed into your skin, they sit on the surface of your skin and deflect rays away from your skin. Mineral sunscreens can be thicker and more visible on the skin, although many products on the market today are refined and thinner than they once were.
Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge. They absorb the sun’s rays, preventing UV from reaching the skin. Studies show that many of the chemicals used in these sunscreens are absorbed into your skin; yet the American Academy of Dermatology states that when this was studied, “the researchers pointed out that just because an ingredient is absorbed into the body does not mean that it is harmful or unsafe.”
What type of sunscreen should I wear if I have sensitive skin?
People with sensitive skin may become irritated by the ingredients in chemical sunscreens. For them, mineral sunscreens may be a better choice.
Should sunscreen go over or under foundation?
Sunscreen should be applied first, directly on the skin. Layer foundation on top of your sunscreen.
My foundation already has SPF in it; do I still need to apply a separate sunscreen?
Yes. It makes sense to do both, because when sunscreen is tested to determine the SPF, it is applied very thickly. Most people apply a thin layer of foundation, which means they don’t get the full SPF protection on the label.
The safest bet: Apply a sunscreen first, then layer your foundation with an SPF over that.
What about people with dark(er) skin? Do they still need a sunscreen? And does it have to be as powerful as a sunscreen for someone with light skin?
It’s entirely possible for people with very dark skin to get painful sunburns with intense sun exposure (think a day at the beach or park). So yes, they should wear sunscreen if they’re out for the day in the sun.
People with darker skin are at higher risk of developing irregular skin pigmentation, which can be exacerbated by UV exposure. Wearing sunscreen is an important part of preventing/treating irregular skin pigmentation and may help keep the skin tone even.
What’s the best SPF to wear?
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following:
Always apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. Make sure to apply one ounce (two tablespoons) 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating - regardless of the SPF.
And they warn:
“An SPF 30 allows about 3 percent of UVB rays to hit your skin. An SPF of 50 allows about 2 percent of those rays through. That may seem like a small difference until you realize that the SPF 30 is allowing 50 percent more UV radiation onto your skin.”
Do I still need sunscreen if I sit at the beach after 5PM, on a sunny day?
In the mornings and evenings, the sun’s rays are composed mostly of UVA rays. These are the longer wavelength that penetrate deeper into the skin and lead to a more aged appearance of the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer. You absolutely should wear sunscreen whenever you are outside.
Experts say that to get enough Vitamin D from the sun, you need to be out without sunscreen for at least 10 minutes three times per week (or longer for darker-skinned people). But what if you can’t do that without getting burned?
If spending any time in the sun without sunscreen causes your skin to burn, give up that idea for getting your Vitamin D. Instead, the Skin Cancer Foundation advises getting your D from a combo of diet and supplements. You can read more about that here.
For A Pause…
1. Be careful with the clock: The intensity of the sun is highest during the summer months, especially between the hours of 10AM and 4PM.
2. Need sunscreen recos? I recently purchased this La Roche-Posay’s Tinted Mineral Light Fluid Sunscreen and love its light and blendable texture. (Extra points for its glowing tint and an SPF of 50!) For my body, I usually stick with Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch Lotion.
3. Be a sun-sleuth and discover how intense (and dangerous) the sun is by checking the UV index. These numbers come out daily on a 1 to 11+ scale….1 means a low level of exposure and 11+ means you need to be super-cautious. Here’s where to check or sign up for daily emails.
4. Sun protection should go beyond just sunscreen. Don’t forget to wear a hat to help keep the sun off your face (and keep your hair color from fading, too, in case you’re worried about that). I plan on ordering this one. It looks cute, reviews say it’s large enough to fit a big head (mine), and it’s packable (hoping to travel one day soon!). Plus, you can’t beat the price.
One More Thing…
Remember this classic? Still beautiful after all these years (and guaranteed to produce a hefty earworm (#stucksongsyndrome).
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Until next time, stay well. Stay healthy. Stay safe.
See you next time!