SIMCOE, ON, JUNE 4, 2010 – Choosing a sunscreen can be overwhelming. A trip down any store aisle stocked with sunscreen will reveal SPFs that range from single digits to triple digits. Some sunscreens offer broad-spectrum protection. Others are hypoallergenic or waterproof, and many are available as either lotions or sprays.
Despite all of the options designed to meet the needs of people with various skin types and lifestyles, the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit wants to remind people that the purpose of any sunscreen is to help reduce the risk of skin damage or skin cancer. When used along with protective hats, clothing, sunglasses and seeking shade, sunscreen is an effective way to protect the skin from the sun’s UVA and UVB radiation.
“Whether you buy a spray, lotion, or gel sunscreen is really a matter of preference.” said Josh Daley, Health Promoter with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit’s Health Environment Team. “The best sunscreen is the one that you like and will use.”
All sunscreens have a sun protection factor (SPF) on their labels. The SPF represents the length of time that sunscreen-protected skin can be exposed to UVB rays before redness appears, compared to the length of time it takes on unprotected skin. For example, if your skin normally starts turning red after 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF of 15 allows you to stay out for approximately 150 minutes without burning. That is 15 times longer than if you did not use sunscreen.
“We need to remember that SPF is an approximation, and actual results are dependent on many variables,” cautions Daley. “The amount of solar energy you are exposed to depends not only on the amount of time you spend in the sun, but also the time of day, geographic location, skin type, amount of perspiration and weather conditions. Also, people usually use far less sunscreen than the amount used in the SPF lab testing.”
The Health Unit recommends everyone use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. For extended time outdoors, use SPF 30 or higher. Regardless of the SPF, be sure to apply and reapply the sunscreen as outlined on the product label. Using sunscreen on overcast days is also important, as about 80% of UV rays get through the clouds.
SPF only indicates the protection against UVB rays, not UVA rays. Purchasing sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection, which means it protects the skin from both UVA and UVB radiation, is key. The UVB wavelengths are the principal cause of sunburn and can lead to the development of skin cancer. UVA rays can penetrate to deeper layers of the skin, causing premature aging and skin damage.
Apply sunscreens to dry skin one half hour before going outside. If you’re going to wear insect repellent or makeup, put on the sunscreen first. Using a lip balm with SPF is also important.
Don’t store sunscreen in the car and other places, where temperatures may get high. Heat may change the chemical composition of sunscreens, which reduces the effectiveness of the product. Likewise, the chemical composition of sunscreens can change with age, and it may no longer perform as stated on the bottle so be sure to check your sunscreens expiration date.
Health Promoter, Healthy Environment Team
Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit
Ext. 3256 at either 519-426-6170 or 905-318-6623