Did you know that approximately 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day in the United States? This adds up to be an incredible 3.3 million people each year! Now, why such a high number? Studies say the leading cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet rays, or UV rays from the harmful effects of the sun and tanning beds. While we can’t avoid the sun, nor would we want to, we can protect our skin from these rays to lower the chance of skin cancer by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing/accessories.
Wearing sunscreen is a quick and easy way to shield our skin from the sun, as well as free radicals and other pollutants in the air. Sunscreen acts as a protective barrier to absorb UV rays and pollutants, and keep the skin safe. Sunscreens come in a variety of forms and levels, including creams, sprays, powders, liquids, and lotions, and range in SPF levels. The SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, in sunscreen determines how well it will protect the skin and for how long. When using a sunscreen with SPF 30, it will take about 30 times longer to burn the skin when compared to wearing no sunscreen at all. The higher the SPF, the better protection you receive! And no, the SPF in your makeup is not enough, as makeup typically only has an SPF level of 10-15. Sunscreens also differ in ingredients, which can be categorized into 2 different types; chemical sunscreen and physical sunscreen, also commonly known as mineral sunscreen.
Chemical sunscreen contains organic (carbon-based) active ingredients that absorbs the UV rays upon contact, catalyzes a chemical reaction, transforming the UV rays into heat that is then released from the skin. Chemical sunscreens typically block either UVA or UVB, but not both. Some benefits to chemical sunscreens include their commonly thinner formulas, making them easy to apply. Chemical sunscreens also absorb into the skin better than physical sunscreens, leaving less residue or “pilling” on the skin. Some downsides of chemical sunscreen are that it must be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure in order to properly absorb into the skin, they are more likely to irritate skin, it can require more frequent application, not ideal for people with rosacea or other skin conditions that cause redness on the skin, it is more likely to clog pores due to its typically more comedogenic ingredients, and chemical sunscreens are commonly known to run and irritate the eyes.
Physical aka mineral sunscreens contain inorganic physical UV filters that reflect, scatter, and block the sun’s rays before they can penetrate the skin. The ingredients of physical sunscreens are meant to sit on top of the skin and not to be absorbed and the most common ingredients found in physical sunscreens include Titanium Dioxide and/or Zinc Oxide (both FDA approved). Some benefits of physical sunscreens is that they naturally offer broad spectrum protection, they are less likely to irritate the skin than chemical sunscreens, it reflects heat, making it perfect for those with sensitive skin conditions including rosacea, and most physical sunscreens are non-comedogenic, so they are less like to clog pores. Some downsides to physical sunscreens include the sometimes easy-to-rub-off formulas or that they can be removed with sweat/water. They also tend to have a thicker formula that can leave a white hue on the skin.
After you select the perfect sunscreen for you, another easy way to protect your skin from UV rays is to cover up using protective clothing or accessories. If you don’t want the burden of reapplying sunscreen to uncovered body parts, find a cute sun hat, some big sunglasses, a breathable, light long sleeve top and cover your legs and feet with a towel. As amazing as it is to lay out and soak up the sun on a pool floaty, even when protected by an umbrella, those UV rays reflect off of the water and can damage your skin, so wearing protective clothing is just as important as wearing your sunscreen!
Not only is sun exposure the leading cause to skin cancer, but it is also one of the top environmental stressors that cause rapid skin aging, including wrinkles, fine lines, dry, dehydrated skin, and leathery skin. Protecting your skin can help the skin look younger, softer, and sun spot free for longer! But if you do notice some sun damage to your skin or need help selecting the best sunscreen for your skin and lifestyle, visit your licensed esthetician or your dermatologist to see what options there are to help prevent, reduce or reverse UV damage and PLEASE stay protected and out of tanning beds!