Sun Protection 101: What Your Bottle of Sunscreen Lotion Won’t Tell You

| Women's Health

sunscreen kid

Who doesn’t love summer? It is the perfect time for the entire family to soak up some sun and get a boost of vitamin D for healthier bones. Plus, the weather is warm enough to make splashing around in the beach, or the pool, a super cool bonding activity. But with the widespread information that UV rays are causing eye damage, skin cancer and suppressed immunity, how do you protect you and your family’s skin from sun scares? This summer, learn how to enjoy the sun, surf and sand with these essential, yet super practical sun safety tips:

Know your sun vocabulary: When people think of sun safety, the first thing they are most likely to grab is a bottle of sunscreen. Before you do, be sure you understand what you are protecting your skin from, and how. There are three types of ultraviolet rays from sunlight.

  • UVA rays pass through the protective ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere. Overexposure to these rays can cause premature wrinkling and aging, and may contribute to the onset of skin cancer. UVB rays are what cause sunburns and eye damage. These rays also suppress immune function, and contribute to skin cancer like melanoma.
  • UVB rays are shielded by the ozone layer, but the ones that get through are still capable of causing significant health problems.
  • UVC rays are the most fatal, but cannot harm your skin because the ozone layer can trap them before they even hit the earth.

Bottom line, you need to protect your skin from UVA and UVB rays.

Sun protection factor (SPF): This is a term you won’t miss on a bottle of sunscreen. NYC dermatologist Amy Wechsler, MD reveals that there is absolutely no amount or brand of sunscreen that can completely shield skin from the sun’s rays. The numbers after “SPF” are based on the length of time before unprotected skin would redden. A person whose skin would redden within 10 minutes of exposure would require SPF 2 for 20 minutes of protection. If you are staying out in the sun for two hours, choose a sunscreen with SPF 15. If you are spending the entire day outdoors, go for SPF 75, or higher.

sun protection

How to make your sunscreen work for you:

  • Types of sunscreen: Unless you have an infant, you don’t really need two (adult and kiddie types). Choose a version for sensitive skin and a brand that’s fragrance-free and tear-free so that it can be used for the face. For very young children and babies, look for a sunscreen with titanium oxide or zinc oxide because these substances create a physical film to protect the skin.
  • Where and when to apply sunscreen: People typically apply sun protection to their legs, arms and backs, but miss a lot of other body parts that are prone to burning. Apply sunscreen on the face, especially on the exposed parts of the ears. Don’t forget the nape, neck, chest, feet, toes and the back of hands. Most people apply sun protecting lotions as soon as they get outdoors, but experts recommend applying beforehand as most lotions need about twenty minutes to be absorbed into the skin. Only then will they start to work.
  • How much sunscreen and how often: The amount of sunscreen you apply is directly proportional to its effect. Your entire body should consume a shot glass full of sunscreen, whereas your child may need half of this amount. Apply sunscreen every two hours, especially for whole-day, outdoor activities.
  • When to toss your sunscreen: Before applying, be certain to look for the expiration date, and if it is expired, it's time to toss it. If the lotion has not expired but has been left open for several days or months, it's still a good idea to by a new bottle.

Remember everyday natural sun protection tricks: 

  • Sunglasses are a fashionable add-on to any summer outfit, but they are also needed to shield your peepers from the harmful sun rays.
  • Wear a broad-rim hat to keep your face and eyes in the shade.
  • Sunlight is healthiest in the morning, but outdoor exposure should be avoided between 11:00AM and 3:00PM because the UV rays are harshest during these hours.
  • Darker clothing and tightly-woven fabric protects the skin better than light and airy clothes do. Beachwear manufacturers are now actively creating SPF clothing meant for an entire day of fun in the sun.
  • Protect your skin from the sun’s rays by strengthening it from within. Eat plenty of foods that are rich in antioxidants. These delay aging and fight free radicals that can cause wrinkles and cancer.

By remembering these tips and practicing safe sunning, you and your family can finally enjoy the summer sun without fear.