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Spending time outdoors exposes your skin to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The UV radiation can cause skin damage, sunburns or even skin cancer. That’s why you need to protect your skin. Sunscreens are skincare products that combine a number of organic and inorganic ingredients to help prevent the harmful UV radiation from reaching your skin.

How Do Sunscreens Work?

There are two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA (Ultraviolet A) and UVB (Ultraviolet B). UVB rays are the main culprits for skin cancer and sunburn. UVA rays, on the other hand, are known to penetrate deeply into your skin, causing aging and wrinkles. However, recent research now suggests that UVA rays also play a part in the development of skin cancer.

Many sunscreens contain agents made from both chemical and physical particles that block and absorb the harmful UV rays. The physical properties include minerals like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which reflect the UV rays from the skin.

Do Sunscreens Offer Complete Protection for Your Skin?

So far, there isn’t a sunscreen product that offers 100 percent protection for your skin. While you may find a sunscreen that offers up to 98 percent, there are also other factors to consider such as the ingredients used and skin tone.

SPF

One important factor to consider when buying sunscreens is the sun protection factor (SPF). There is a common misconception that SPF measures the strength of protection from the UV rays. Actually, SPF measures how long it takes for the UVB and UVA rays to affect skin protected with sunscreen compared to skin without. For instance, if it takes 10 minutes for your skin to start getting burned, then applying sunscreen with SPF15 implies that the sunscreen will take 15 times longer (150 minutes) before the skin starts to burn.

Skin Tone

People have different skin tones. A skin that’s naturally very fair burns easily and rarely tans. This skin type is highly photosensitive and sunscreen with SPF30 or above will provide the most protection. However, if you’re going to spend more than two hours out in the sun, SPF50 will protect your skin for longer. People with dark tone skin rarely burn due to minimal UV sensitivity. People with this skin type can use SPF15 or lower since they don’t need that much protection.

Choosing the Best Sunscreen

Like we mentioned earlier, you can use either physical sunscreen or chemical sunscreen.

Physical Sunscreen

Physical sunscreens are mainly composed of inorganic physical UV filters that block, reflect and scatter the harmful rays before they penetrate the skin. They contain active minerals that sit on top of the epidermis, unlike chemical sunscreens which are absorbed into the skin. What to look for in physical blockers: The two main active mineral ingredients in physical sunscreens are Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved the use of these ingredients. Since these ingredients are least likely to cause an adverse reaction to the skin, people with high photosensitivity should choose sunscreen products that list at least one of these mineral ingredients.

Chemical Sunscreen

Chemical sunscreens contain organic active ingredients which absorb the UV radiation. The organic particles then transform the UV rays into heat, which is then released from the skin. Unlike physical sunscreens that protect against both the UVB and UVA rays, chemical sunscreens can only protect against one of the two. Chemical sunscreens’ main ingredients include avobenzone, oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, and octocrylene. A major drawback of using chemical sunscreens is skin exposure to all sorts of chemicals which, among other things, increase the production of free radicals on your skin, which can accelerate aging, wrinkles and even cancer. Additionally, these sunscreens are more likely to clog your pores compared to physical sunscreens.

There have been concerns about ingredients that cause skin irritation, skin redness due to the heat being released from the skin, among other unpleasant side effects. Its, therefore, safer to use physical sunscreens that don’t subject your skin to more harm.

The Takeaway

Sunscreens should be used all year round, even when its cloudy since UV rays penetrate the clouds. When buying sunscreen, look for one that’s water resistant and a broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF30 or higher. When using sunscreen, always apply a generous amount to your skin before heading out. Also, remember that sunscreens need to be reapplied for continued protection. Regardless of the SPF number, don’t let your guard down thinking that you’re fully protected. It’s important to seek other ways of protecting your skin like wearing UV-blocking sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats. Likewise, if possible, try to minimize the time spent in the sun.

All images by Pixabay

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