Statistics indicate that at least one out of five Americans will develop skin cancer (86% melanoma and 90% non-melanoma) in their lifetime. A staggering one million are already living with melanoma, and the total number of patients battling skin cancer is five times higher than that of patients fighting all other types of cancer—combined.
One of the big culprits is the sun’s ultraviolet radiation – UVA and UVB. UVA causes sunburn and UVB are responsible for negative long-lasting effects like premature aging and skin cancer. It only takes 15 minutes of exposure to the sun for UVA and UVB to start wreaking havoc on your skin.
You, therefore, need to protect your skin whenever you are out for more than 15 minutes—whether it’s cloudy, overcast, or in winter. The easiest way to block sun rays is by using sunscreen.
How to effectively use sunscreen to guard your skin against the sun’s rays
While sunscreen protects skin from the sun’s harmful UV light, there is not much difference between someone who never cares for sunscreen and one who does not use it effectively. Both get exposed to UV rays.
Effective use of sunscreen starts with understanding the SPF numbers, finding a sunscreen that suits your skin type, knowing how to apply the sunscreen and how often to apply it and reapply.
Understanding SPF Numbers
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it’s indicated in values 15, 30, 50, 100 and 150. You have probably heard, “With SPF 15, you will be safe from UV light 15 times longer than you would without sunscreen…SPF 30 means you will be protected 30 times more, and so forth.”
However, what it actually means according to the Skin Cancer Foundation is that, SPF 15 blocks approximately 93% of all incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. SPF 100 only protects you 1% more than SPF 50.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of SPF 30 and above.
Understand UVB absorption
As you can see on the table below, UVB absorption does not increase significantly after SPF 30. SPF 30-50 sunscreens have a high enough UVB absorption percentage. As long as you have a sunscreen that suits your skin and you apply the recommended amount, it will absorb UVB and protect your skin.
|SPF||% of UVB Absorbed|
Best SPF For Your Skin Type
A broad spectrum sunscreen is the best as it protects you from both UVA and UVB radiation. Here is a table that can help you choose which SPF value is right for you:
|Complexion||Sun’s Effect||Right SPF|
|Very dark||Does not burn but gets darker||SPF 2–10|
|Dark||Hardly burns and tans easily||SPF 2–10|
|Medium||Burns a little and tans well||SPF 6–15|
|Light||Burns moderately and tans over time||SPF 15–30|
|Fair||Burns fast and tans minimally||SPF 30–50|
|Very fair||Burns fast and never tans||SPF 30–50|
How to apply sunscreen
According to EWG, “Numerous studies show that sunscreen users apply far less sunscreen than used in the FDA-mandated SPF test. When someone applies only 25 percent of the expected amount of SPF 30, the sunburn protection on the skin is actually only 2.3. Someone who applies SPF 100 sparingly can wind up with a functional SPF as low as 3.2.”
You need to use the recommended amount to guard your skin against the sun. To attain the SPF which effectively shields your skin from UVB, the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you, “use approximately two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimeter of skin. In practice, this means applying the equivalent of a shot glass (two tablespoons) of sunscreen to the exposed areas of the face and body – a nickel-sized dollop to the face alone. If you’re using a spray, apply until an even sheen appears on the skin.”
- Apply sunscreen at least half hour before leaving the house to allow it time to settle in. For the lips, apply 45 minutes or an hour earlier.
- Use sunscreen on clean skin and before applying moisturizer unless you are using a titanium dioxide or zinc oxide based sunscreen – because they start blocking sun rays immediately.
- Use about a teaspoon of sunscreen on your face. Slathering a thick layer is the only way to be sure you are covered. Dabbing too little sunscreen is as good as not wearing any.
- Dot sunscreen on your skin and then spread it out in circles for faster absorption and even distribution.
- Reapply sunscreen every one and half hours to two hours, or as directed.
While there are no ‘sweat-proof’ or ‘waterproof’ sunscreens (don’t be fooled!), water-resistant sunscreens are a good choice for an active day where you will be sweating or engaging in water activities. And do remember like any other sunscreen, you are still advised to reapply a water-resistant sunscreen after an hour and a half or two.
Besides effective use of sunscreen lotion, cream or gel, there are other ways to further protect yourself from sun rays including:
- Wearing protective clothing – long sleeves, pants, hats, etc.
- Spending more time in the shade.
- Avoiding being in the sun between 10 am and 2 pm.
- Always wearing sunscreen with the right SPF for your skin type.