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Your Burning Sunscreen Questions Answered

Think you’re already pretty sun savvy?

Read on and let us know if we’ve covered all the bases.

What exactly are UVA and UVB rays?

UV radiation is invisible to the naked eye and has two main wave lengths — UVA and UVB. The easiest way to remember which of these does what is pretty simple. UVA rays age the skin and UVB rays burn the skin. Both UVA and UVB can cause a whole lot of trouble for your skin health including permanent sun damage and skin cancer.

What does SPF mean, really?

SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” The advice we’ve probably all heard is to use an SPF 15 and reapply every one to two hours. But this is not the whole story.

SPF is not a one size fits all proposition.

Think of it this way — a very fair person, say a redhead, may burn without sun protection in as little as three minutes whereas sunburn on a darker skin might take as long as an hour or more to appear.

The SPF number on a sun protection product is actually part of a formula that tells you exactly how much time you, as an individual, can spend in the sun before re-application is required. In order to calculate that you must know how long it actually takes your skin (and your skin alone) to burn in an unprotected state.

Contrary to popular belief, a higher SPF does not necessarily provide more protection, but rather is an indicator as to the amount of time you can spend in the sun unprotected before reapplication is necessary. This varies based on individual sensitivity and skin tone.

Let’s do the math

If you are a redhead, who burns in three minutes, and are planning on being outside for a while, you may actually need an SPF 50. Using our previous formula of the number of minutes it takes for your skin to burn multiplied by the SPF rating (in this case, 3 x 50) your SPF 50 gives you the same duration of protection (150 minutes) as someone who burns in 10 minutes using an SPF 15.

On the other hand, if your skin starts to get pink (the first sign of an impending burn) at about the 10 minute mark an SPF 15 allows you to spend (10 x 15 =) 150 minutes in the sun before you need to dip back in your beach bag for your product and slather on another layer. Make sense?

How much product do I need to apply and when should I be applying it?

The rule of thumb is one ounce of sunscreen for your whole body applied 20 minutes prior to your initial exposure. If you are going to be outside for longer than two hours, make sure you have your sunscreen with you so there is no lapse in protection.

What’s the difference between mineral and chemical sunblock?

Mineral sun protection (look for zinc as a main ingredient) prevents UVA and UVB rays from ever reaching the skin. It is literally a physical block between your skin and the sun.

Chemical sunscreen, on the other hand, is a combination of three or more UVB and UVA chemicals which cause a chemical change that transforms UVB and UVA rays into heat. You can actually feel the heat of a chemical sunscreen working in your skin before it is released!

So, which is better for your skin health?

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there around this question and a boatload of opinions to boot, but here is what we know to be true — mineral sunblock provides naturally occurring, broad spectrum protection for the skin with zero toxicity to the body or the environment.

My makeup has sunscreen, does that protect my skin?

Yes and no. Even if your makeup has an actual SPF rating, keep in mind it’s designed to sit on the skin’s surface, just like your sunscreen. Either one can wear off over time leaving your skin vulnerable. Layering makeup over a product specifically designed for sun protection is the safest route but keep in mind that all day sun protection is never a one and done situation, re-application is absolutely necessary to keep your skin full protected no matter what type of product you use.

I have darker skin and never burn; do I still need to be concerned about sun protection?

You sure do. The additional melanin in darker skin tones may help decrease instances of sunburn but will not protect skin from the damage caused by UVA rays.

What exactly does “water-resistant” mean?

First of all, let’s go there right now and affirm there is no such thing as a waterproof sunscreen, so don’t fool yourself. Water-resistant, however, is a label you can trust. Any product marked water-resistant needs to meet some pretty strict standards per the FDA including an SPF rating of 40 or 80. This is roughly double the SPF of a sunscreen that you would use for dry exposure situations due to the fact that the product wears off much faster in the water than it would otherwise.

We suggest over doing it. If you’re going to be beaching it or chilling poolside, reapply every time you get out of the water to be safe. There’s no such thing as an over-application of sun protection as far as we’re concerned.

I am not outdoorsy, can I skip it?

Nope not ever. If you work near a window, drive in a car or spend even as little as 15 to 20 minutes a day outside you need sunscreen.

It's cloudy out, do I still need to protect my skin?

Yes, without question. Don’t be fooled by overcast skies. Cloud cover filters some UVB rays but does not filter any UVA so even if you’re not getting a burn, you’re still exposing your skin to premature aging and skin cancer.

Did we cover all your questions? If not, please feel free to leave a comment or drop us a line. We are more than happy to geek out on this topic anytime.

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