Now that summer is here, everyone is gearing up to spend countless hours relaxing in the sun. For years, we have been told of the importance of sunscreen and the dangers of skin cancer. But now with a hundred different lotions and oils, choosing the right body armor can be overwhelming. UVA, UVB, SPF, multi spectrum protection, broad spectrum protection, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide… What does it all mean? And how do these things affect finding the best sun block?
UV radiation is an invisible part of the electromagnetic spectrum that reaches earth from the sun. Because the rays are shorter than those of visible light, they cannot be seen by the naked eye. Problems occur when skin cells are exposed to these rays. The radiation causes mutations in the cell DNA, which can eventually lead to cancer. There are three different types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC is relatively unimportant and undamaging because it is almost entirely absorbed by ozone, unable to reach the earth. UVA rays are the longest and most prevalent of the three. Accounting for approximately 95% of UV radiation, these rays are present at all times of the day and year and can shine through glass. They also penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays, causing more damage to cells. Tanning beds typically use UVA rays. The reddening and burning of skin is due to UVB rays, which although more intense than UVA, actually penetrate the skin less. Also, their intensity varies by season and time of day. For example, UVB rays are more prevalent in the summer than in the winter.
When shopping for sunscreen, most people look for the lotion with the highest SPF. But what, exactly, is SPF? SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and relates to the amount of time it takes for you to redden. For example, it will take a person who puts SPF 15 lotion on 15 times longer to redden than someone who does not. However, the SPF number only deals with UVB rays. In order to safeguard against UVA rays, it’s important to look for sunscreen with ingredients such as zinc oxide, oxybenzone, ecamsule, or titanium dioxide. These chemicals aid in reflecting or absorbing the longer, more harmful rays. UVA/UVB Protection, multi spectrum protection, or broad band protection are examples of sunscreens that contain some of these chemicals. However, there are no real specifications for a sunblock to be given a label like this. Therefore, check the ingredients to ensure that you really are getting the protection you need. Now, you can navigate your way through the sunscreen aisle without panicking.