ABC's of SPF


Recently I went to do my annual sunscreen purchase and was more confused than I usually am when buying sunscreen.  Being  fair skin 25-year-old you would think I would know my ABC's of SPF by at this stage of the game.  I typically would grab the highest SPF (I'm at the Casper level of paleness) that's on sale and be out. Alas, not this year since the recent news about carcinogenic ingredients in sunscreen and dad's second time around with skin cancer.  Let's talk sunscreen so you don't have to buy 8 bottles to find the "one"  or end up in the emergency room this summer.

Sun protection is important at any age to prevent both long and short-term issues.  Short term effects that run the range from heat stroke to  unsightly peeling.  Bad sunburns can pave the way to skin cancer greatly by causing DNA damage.  Long term effects can causing freckling, dilated blood vessels, age spots, wrinkles, skin cancer and changes in your skins texture.  Aged leather is good for a purse but NOT for your skin.

The sun cause both visible and non visible rays. The invisible rays, known as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), are the one's causing damage. UVB rays are the main ones that cause you to burn and increase your cancer risks.  UVA rays cause the deeper damage such as wrinkling, aging and other effects from photoaging. Now repeat after me, there is no safe UV light that will give you a safe tan!  If you feel the need for a tan don't do it outside. There are plenty of self tanners on the market and many salons have services that'll make you look like a bronze goddess. ULTA is my favorite place to get self tanner since they have a great selection at different price points.

Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect our skin from these harmful rays.  The SPF,  sun protection factor,  is the measure the sunscreens ability to prevent UV damage.  The recommended SPF varies from source to source but it seems that a minimum of  SPF 15 for people with minimal sun exposure.  SPF 15 generally blocks 93%  of UV rays, SPF 30 generally blocks 97% of UV rays and SPF 50 can block 98% of rays.   For those of us at the Casper pale level, on certain medications,  with a history of skin cancer or spend a lot of time outdoors  those percentages make a difference.

A half hour before sun exposure be sure to apply 1 oz (a shot glass full or two tablespoons) otherwise you won't be getting the labeled SPF amount.  When your outside for long periods of time be sure to reapply the same amount every two hours to ensure proper protection.  Make sure you remember to reapply after swimming or sweating a lot.

Now comes the part were I and about 6 other people were confused at Target.  How do you know what's the best product for your needs?  The Skin Cancer Foundation has a great guide to sunscreen that can help you narrow down your search.  If the recent study about chemicals in your sunscreen makes you worry then check out this sunscreen finder put together by the Environmental Working Group  which is the same organization that conducted the study. If you're waiting to hear more evidence regarding the cancer study, the Consumer Reports Magazine already put out their sunscreen recommendations for summer 2010.

Now that summers here remember to put on your sunscreen! You'll save yourself from smelling like aloe, risking skin cancer and being that person with dead skin flakes on their clothes.  What's your favorite sunscreen?

Image thanks to Balaji. B

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