It’s the height of summer, which means fun outings with family and friends, memorable trips to the beach, and lazy afternoons getting a tan. You’re probably still using that bottle of sunblock leftover from last summer—if you’re using it at all. After all, you might think that these summer days baking under the sun rarely occur so it can’t hurt to forego the SPF. But this is precisely the kind of thinking that can get you and your skin in trouble in the long run.
Why You Need to Wear Sunblock
There are a number of reasons your skin needs protection:
Skin cancer is on the rise. In the U.S., an estimated one in five Americans will get skin cancer. Experts say that skin cancer is more common than all other malignant diseases combined. The primary cause of skin cancer? Exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunblock, depending on the type you use (more on that later), can protect you against these UV rays.
The ozone layer isn’t what it used to be. You might be thinking that your parents grew up not wearing sunblock and they’re perfectly fine. However, times—and the earth—are changing. The ozone layer, that shield that provides a protective barrier around the planet and that absorbs most of the sun’s rays, is depleting. This means that you need more protection now than people did before.
It keeps discoloration at bay. Longing for an even complexion? Get out of the sun! Sun exposure is a big factor when it comes to dark spots appearing on your skin.
Your future self will thank you. You may not get a sunburn but those rays are harming you in ways you can’t see. Photoaging is a very real thing: the premature aging of skin due to repeated sun exposure. You might be enjoying carefree days now but you’re sure to pay for it later when fine lines and wrinkles start appearing before they should.
Guidelines for Wearing Sunblock
When it comes to wearing sunblock, many people are doing it wrong. Effective sunblock is sun protection that is applied properly and at the appropriate times. Keep the following tips in mind when choosing and applying sunblock:
Choose one that is broad spectrum. A broad-spectrum sunblock protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Why is this important? The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) explains how these two types of rays affect your skin: “Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth—UVA rays and UVB rays… UVA rays (or aging rays) can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots, and can pass through window glass.
UVB rays (or burning rays) are the primary cause of sunburn and are blocked by window glass.” While UVB rays are responsible for the instant visible signs of damage (a red, painful burn), UVA rays are more sinister and sneak up on you through the years, causing long-term damage.
Choose an SPF 30 or higher. SPF, or sun protection factor, is an indication of how long a sunscreen can protect you from the sun’s rays. The AAD advises choosing sunblock that has an SPF of 30 or higher; this protects you from 97% of the sun’s UVB rays.
Take note that this percentage increases only incrementally as the SPF goes up—an SPF 50 blocks 98% of the sun’s UVB rays. Also note that no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays.
Wear it every day—not just in the summer. Whether it’s a bright and sunny day with clear blue skies or a gloomy, overcast day, you still need to wear sunblock as those harmful rays can make it through the clouds.
Apply it properly. You need about a shot glass’s worth of sunscreen to cover your entire body. Make sure you apply at least 15 minutes before sun exposure to help your skin absorb the product. Reapply every two hours; more often if you’ll be in water.
Ideally, choose one that is waterproof. (Also consider choosing a reef-safe sunblock to help protect marine life. Read more about reef-safe sunscreens here.) Don’t forget to apply sunblock on your ears and the tops of your feet. Use a lip balm with SPF for your lips.
Choose a formulation that’s right for you. There are chemical sunscreens (those that have ingredients that are absorbed into the skin and make the rays less harmful) and physical sunscreens (those that have zinc oxide and provide a physical barrier that reflects the sun’s rays) and various formulations like creams, gels, sticks, and sprays.
If you have sensitive skin, you might be better off choosing a physical sunblock. You can also consider using an all-natural sunblock. (Check Healthy Options for a range of brands.) Gels are great for hairier parts like the scalp or hairy chests, sticks are great near the eyes, sprays are great for kids. (Take precautions when applying spray sunblock, like staying away from open flames.)
Practice overall sun safety. Applying sunblock isn’t the be-all and end-all of sun protection. Stay under the shade if you can, wear protective clothing to more effectively keep out rays, and wear hats and sunglasses. Worried about Vitamin D deficiency? You can get it from safer sources like whole foods.