I’ve been thinking lately about something that happened while a friend and I were out together, that I think a lot of people might relate to. I thought I’d share it with you.
We were walking down Third Street in Old Naples, doing a little shopping, and found ourselves passing a pharmacy. She wanted to pick up a few things, so we went in. We were talking about this and that as we walked through the store, and I wasn’t really paying attention to what we were doing, when I realized that we’d been standing in the sunscreen aisle for quite a while, and that she looked totally bewildered as she tried to compare the four or five different products she was holding.
“Sooooo, what’s up?” I asked. She said she was trying to pick out a sunscreen. I said I gathered that. She looked at me sheepishly and said, “There are like fifteen different SPFs available. I don’t actually know which is better. A bigger number means it’s better, right? And what does Broad Spectrum mean? Is there, I don’t know, a smaller spectrum? Is that bad?”
And it occurred to me that most people out there might not really know what SPF even stands for, much less know all (or even some) of the facts about sunscreen. Since I have the benefit of being a skincare specialist, I told my friend to ask me anything she wanted about sunscreen, and I would answer as best I could. In more or less “nutshell” form, here’s how our conversation went.
What does SPF stand for?
SPF means “sun protection factor” — and it indicates how effective a sunscreen or sunblock is at protecting your skin from a percentage of the sun’s UVB rays. It has nothing to do with protection from UVA rays.
What is the difference between UVA and UVB?
Sunlight is made up of a lot of different wavelengths of light. As you probably know, this is what creates the color spectrum we see all around us. (Remember your ROY G BIV from art class? Well, each color is a different wavelength of light.)
There are also wavelengths we can’t see, though, some of which are called ultraviolet. There are different kinds of ultraviolet rays, and the ones that matter as far as sunscreen is concerned are: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).
So you need to block both of these to fully protect your skin.
Thankfully, almost all of the sun’s UVB rays are absorbed by our ozone layer before they can ever get down to us. But if you’ve ever gotten a sunburn, you know very well how much damage the UVB rays that do get through can cause. UVB rays are also a major cause of skin cancer and other cellular damage.
UVA rays are slightly different. They account for 95% of all the UV rays that reach the Earth’s surface, and they’re harder to block. Basically, this is because they penetrate deeper into the skin (don’t ask me why, it has to do with physics). UVA rays don’t cause sunburns, but they do cause wrinkling and leathering (known as photo-aging), and they damage the collagen in your skin. They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects and cellular damage caused by UVB rays. They’re pretty bad.
It’s important to remember that the SPF rating on a sunscreen or sunblock is only concerned with UVB protection, and has nothing to do with UVA. However, in 2011, the FDA began regulating what’s called the “broad spectrum” range of sunscreens: those that will protect against both UVA and UVB. So, what you need to look for are the words “broad spectrum” on the bottle.
It’s also important to remember that any and all of the effects caused by both UVA and UVB rays can happen regardless of the amount of melanin (pigment) in your skin.
What do SPF numbers mean?
Some of the most common SPFs you see will be 15, 30 or 50. A lot of people think that SPF 30 is twice as effective as SPF 15, but that isn’t really how it works. The SPF of a product depends on a number of things, including how well it can be absorbed, what amount is applied and how long you are exposed, among other things. In short, determining SPF isn’t all that cut-and-dried.
In all practicality, though, SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 blocks 97% (4% more than SPF 15). SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays, which is only 1% more than SPF 30.
Most doctors recommend, then, that you use an SPF of around 30. An SPF higher than in the 30s will honestly only give you a negligibly higher level of protection.
How much sunscreen should I use? And how often should I reapply?
Did you get completely slathered with greasy sunscreen by your parents when you were a kid? It wasn’t fun, but they may have had a point. Most people use far too little sunscreen, and don’t reapply it often enough.
The guidelines offered by the American Academy of Dermatology say that you should use enough sunscreen to fill one shot glass (that should be about an ounce and a half). This should be enough to cover all of the exposed areas of your body. Try to apply your sunscreen about 30 minutes before you get out in the sun, because it does need time to absorb into the skin and dry completely, before it can be fully effective.
You should reapply your sunscreen every two hours or so, as the SPF declines over time. And even if you are using a “waterproof” sunscreen, you should still reapply it after you swim or towel off, or if you are heavily sweating because of the heat. This is not “overkill” — it is necessary to continue protecting your skin from damage.
Think of it this way. In the morning, you put your makeup on and go to work. By lunch, or certainly by the time you’re done for the day, you’d touch up your makeup? And if you splashed water on your face at some point during the day, or got really hot and sweaty, you’d need to reapply your makeup? The same goes for sunscreen.
Is there a natural alternative to chemical sunscreens?
Absolutely. Although most chemicals in sunscreens aren’t at all dangerous, many people prefer to use fully natural products. Two of the main ingredients that are used in naturally derived sunscreens are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals can physically block the damaging rays of the sun, protecting your skin from both UVB and UVA radiation.
So, there at the pharmacy, my friend and I discussed every aspect there is about sunscreen. Then she said, with a little smirk, “You know, this is why, when you find something good, you stick with it. Who wants to go through this, right? Every time you need a new… shampoo, moisturizer, foundation, whatever. It’s like Product Land, and how do you even know what’s good? Honestly, Lisa, you do skincare, what do you use?”
I said, “Well, we’ve looked at a couple here that seem like they’ll give you exactly what you were looking for. But, honestly, if you’re asking me, there really are better products out there, that will give you even more.”
What else is there?
There are three sunscreens that I would recommend, all of them offering the finest in both skincare and sun protection, far better than any of the products my friend and I were looking at in the pharmacy.
Azul’s Mineral Defense SPF 32, for example, is a super lightweight, dry, brush-on mineral sunscreen that will offer you full protection from both UVB and UVA rays. You can use it over your makeup, so no worries there. It also contains the antioxidant niacinamide, that soothes inflammation, boosts collagen production, smooths and repairs fine lines and wrinkles, and inhibits skin pigmentation!
Azul’s Satin Eclipse SPF 34 is a tinted sunscreen and makeup primer rolled up into one. It doesn’t just provide you with broad spectrum protection, it also blocks infrared light, a cause of photo-aging. Infused with vitamins C and E, this sunscreen helps repair skin damage while also protecting it. Microsilicone particles in the sunscreen make for a perfect palate to apply makeup.
Finally, Azul’s Ultra Natural Sunscreen SPF 32 is the perfect sunscreen for those looking to avoid any chemicals. It’s completely naturally derived and incredibly easy on the skin, making it the perfect sunscreen for before and after any surgical procedure(s). This sunscreen includes vitamin C and green tea, helping to fight free radicals and help brighten the skin. The super-special ingredient is lingonberry stem cells that protect your skin from infrared light.
All of these sunscreens were developed at Trilogy Laboratories in conjunction with our own Dr. Flaharty, so they all have his personal seal of approval!
As you can see, sunscreen might seem complex, but it really isn’t all that complicated, and far simpler than the labels make it appear. My takeaways are that a sunscreen around SPF 30 is usually the ideal level of skin protection for most people, always make sure that your sunscreen provides broad spectrum protection, always apply enough and reapply at least every two hours.
If you have any questions about sunscreen or skin protection, please feel free to give us a call at (239) 415-7576. We’d be happy to help you figure out what the best sunscreen would be for you and your skin type. If you’d like to book a free consultation, or see some of the beauty skin procedures or surgical options we offer, just visit our website at www.azulbeauty.com. Remember, it’s a hot Florida summer out there, so take care to protect your skin. The best skincare treatment is protection, pure and simple!