The average person has a 1 in 7 chance of having some type of skin cancer in their lifetime and the chances increase if that person has had a serious sunburn at some time in their life.
Sunscreens are used to prevent sunburn and to protect you from the long-term risk of skin cancer and photoaging. UVB rays are generally responsible for a sunburn, while UVA rays are responsible for the slower, more damaging injury to the skin. The best defense is prevention. This includes staying out of direct sunlight when the sun is warmest, usually between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., protecting exposed areas by wearing a hat and long-sleeved shirt and pants or skirt, and using a sunscreen.
But with so many sunscreen products on the market, how do you know which one is right for you?
Basically, there are two type of sunscreens; physical sunscreens reflect and scatter the sun's ultraviolet radiation and chemical sunscreens absorb the radiation before it can do any damage.
Zinc oxide is the most common physical sunscreen. It is generally used on small, prominently exposed areas such as the nose, lips, and ears by people who cannot control their exposure to the sun (e.g., lifeguards). It is available as a paste or a stick in a range of neon colors to make wearing it more fun.
Chemical sunscreens are the most commonly used. The ideal product absorbs radiation throughout both the UVA and UVB ranges. Most sunscreens absorb in the UVB range, some extend into the UVA range. Parsol 1789 (avobenzone), a relatively new sunscreen, is effective throughout the UVA range. To obtain a broad spectrum of absorption most products contain a combination of sunscreens.
SPF or Sun Protection Factor is a measure of a product's ability to absorb UVB radiation only. It is determined by a ratio of the UVB energy required to produce a sunburn on unprotected skin to the UVB energy required to produce a sunburn on protected skin. For example, a person who applies a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 will be able to stay in the sun 15 times longer than if they had not applied sunscreen. However, if you do not apply enough of the sunscreen product, the SPF can be reduced by 50%. Most dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 15 for all people regardless of skin color or type.
Sunscreen products are available in a wide range of formulations such as gels, lotions, creams, and oils. Generally speaking, lotions and creams are easy to apply and soak into the skin so it does not feel greasy or tight. An oil can absorb the sun's heat making you feel excessively hot or "baked." Gels are cooling because they evaporate quickly but may be difficult to spread the chemical ingredients evenly, which can result in a mottled appearance after exposure to the sun - some areas more tanned than others.
Like any drug or chemical, some people may be sensitive, or allergic, to sunscreens. If you have any allergies to medications or if you take any medication regularly for high blood pressure, diabetes or another medical condition, you should consult your pharmacist before purchasing a product.
TIPS TO AVOID UV EXPOSURE
Stay out of the sun during the times when UV rays are at a maximum, from about 10am to 4pm.
Wear protective clothing. Wear tightly woven clothing to cover your skin. Wide brimmed hats will help protect your face and neck.
Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. Apply sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB to all exposed skin, including lips, ears, back of hands, and neck. Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going in the sun, and reapply it every 2 hours and after swimming, exercising, or sweating.
Wear sunglasses that protect against UVA and UVB rays.
Avoid sunlamps and tanning booths. Artificial sources of UVA and UVB light are just as harmful as those that occur naturally from the sun.
Keep in mind that some medications can cause you to be more sensitive to the sun. Ask your pharmacist if your medications put you at increased risk of burning.