5 Things You Didn’t Know About: Slapping on sunscreen

By Jessica Ashley

We all know we need to use it and sure, it seems easy enough to slap on some sunscreen and lose ourselves in funning and sunning. But get a burn or blisters (or eek, worse) and suddenly sunscreen becomes a much more serious issue. Here are five things you need to know to protect your precious skin this summer:

1. How much sunscreen should you slather on?
We’ve probably all been left with either big white streaks of sunscreen or painful red blotches from not applying enough. So how much is just right? One ounce or two tablespoons (think coffee scoops) covers most people from head to toe. Don’t skimp on those small bits that stick out just enough to get terribly sunburned — ears, feet, the back of your legs. Trust your girlfriend on this, you also don’t want to forget your cleavage and parts of your breasts that may see more sunshine in a swimsuit than they have in ages. If you feel like you are using too much, know that most people only get 10-25% of the benefit of the sunscreen they’re putting on.

And how often?
You should reapply every two to three hours unless you are in the water, wind or basically doing anything you do when you need sunscreen. Setting your waterproof watch or cell phone alarm for the top of the hour may help remind you to consistently re-up.

And when?
Put your sunscreen on an hour before you emerge into a bath of beautiful sunlight. That means you should put it on before you slide into your suit, making sure your entire body is covered well before any little bit of it is exposed to UVA and UVB rays.

2.  What kind of sunscreen works best for my skin?
For everyone, broad spectrum products will guard skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Clearly, cancer  and burns are the main concerns in skin protection. However, broad spectrum sunscreens will also help reflect UVA rays which do not cause burns but do penetrate deeply into the skin and cause the dreaded kind of wrinkles (as opposed to the lovely, laugh kind). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 90% of our skin changes over a lifetime are cause by exposure to UVA rays.

An SPF of 15 or 30 works well for most people, with the level of protection increases only slightly as the SPF number gets higher.

For fair skin or if you have a family history of skin cancer or a medical condition like lupus, choose a creamy SPF 30 or higher.

For people with sensitive skin, rosacea or allergies, opt for children’s sunscreen or sunscreen that is PABA-free with no chemicals or alcohol, preservatives or perfumes.

For people with dry skin, choose a lotion or cream. For oily skin or if you will be around sand and dust, find a gel sunscreen that will dry on the skin without leaving a film.

For people with darker skin tones and for people of color, don’t skip the sunscreen. While dark skin is inherently more protected than fair skin, there is still the risk of skin cancer from a lifetime of exposure. Do be sure to put sunscreen on those vulnerable and often forgotten lighter skin areas of your body — fingernails, toe nails and the palms of your hands. It may seem silly but an awkward application is so much better than a scary diagnosis.

For people concerned about their pucker (which is all of us, right?), keep a tube of SPF 30 lip balm on hand and reapply regularly to keep burns and cold sores away.

3.  What will interfere (or even erase) my sunscreen?
Even water-resistant and waterproof sunscreens only last about 40 minutes before they need to be reapplied. Remember that wet skin burns more easily and towels you use to dry yourself also rub off sunscreen, so be vigilant.

T-shirts won’t impact your sunscreen’s effectiveness if you put it on under your shirt. Since t-shirts only carry an SPF of 4, you can easily burn through them and will interfere with your skin protection plan.

High elevations and tropical climates require a higher SPF and a bigger commitment to reapply. Think of it as being closer to the sun in the most glorious (and vulnerable) of ways.

Wind, humidity and sweat will hamper how much your sunscreen protects your skin. While the normal reapplication time is every couple of hours, go ahead and put more on even more often than this if you’re in any one of these conditions.

Expired sunscreens are less effective. Buck up and buy a new bottle once the expiration date arrives.

4.  Will my SPF make-up do the trick? While it is an excellent support to your skincare, SPF-infused make-up won’t necessarily give you as much protection as you need. This is particularly true for powders, which would require you to apply about 14 times the amount you normally use in order to get the sun protection you need.

Also, if you are using different kinds of skincare products and make-up, each containing SPF, you won’t multiply the strength of your sun protection. Instead, you will simply get the highest level of SPF within those individual products. If you’re wearing four products that have SPF 8, you get a protection level of SPF 8. If you have products that range from SPF 2- SPF 8, you will get the benefit at the SPF 8 level.

5.  What about the kiddos?

We all know that many moms, grandmas, aunts and caregivers often neglect protecting their own skin while they’re ardently applying sunscreen to their kids. Be sure to take care of yourself with the same care you offer the small children.

When you are spraying the kids down with sunscreen, make sure it is higher than 30. This isn’t hard since most sunscreens made just for kids have SPF 50. Keep kids out of the sun during midday hours of 10 am to 4 pm for extra protection and to avoid those times when exposure risks are highest.

Keep infants well-covered in lightweight clothing and out of the sun in a shaded area. It is safe to use a small amount of sunscreen on babies who are older than six months, concentrating on the face and back of hands. Children get most of the sun exposure they will absorb in their entire lifetimes within their first 18 years of life. Keep that in mind in those very real moments when sunscreening feels like a hassle with crying, wiggly and resistant children.

A Quick Review by Editor:

Great sunscreen information, it is so important for people to be vigilant in wearing it, even if it can be a pain to remember to reapply as often as needed. My family has a history of skin cancer and being a redhead myself I am very conscious about how much time I am in the sun (even when riding in the car) and always wear sunscreen.

Another tip: skin cancer is very real and can be very scary. This is not something that science “just made up” to scare us. My parents are both in their 60s and spent most of their time growing up outdoors and sunscreen wasn’t available at that time. My mom is a redhead with fair skin and so are 2 of her siblings. All 3 of my mom’s siblings have had skin cancer, as well as my mom. She had spots all over her arms and she almost always has spots on her hands. She has had growths dug out of her face which has left scarring. My dad also has had skin cancer on his arms and face. My sister, who is in her mid 30s just had a patch of skin cancer removed from her scalp. Skin cancer can be disfiguring and at it’s worse, deadly. Just because you don’t believe in it doesn’t mean it won’t happen to you.