What You Need to Know About Sun Protection

Medically Reviewed By: Diane Walder, MD, FAAD
May 23, 2018

You can’t deny that the sun plays a pretty important role in your life. It keeps the planet warm, provides light and helps produce the food you need to survive. But it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. The sun also happens to be one of the leading external causes of wrinkles and other signs of aging. It can also lead to various types of skin cancer and other skin damage.

While it’s not healthy to spend all days trapped indoors, avoiding the sun like a vampire, you also don’t want to be a sun worshipper, spending hours out and about with no protection from the intense rays. Here’s everything you need to know about sun protection so that you can keep your skin as healthy and youthful-looking as possible–for as long as possible.

Not All Sun Protection is Created Equal

One type of sunscreen might be more or less effective than another, depending on the formulation and ingredients used to make it. One thing to look for when choosing a sunscreen is broad-spectrum protection, or a product that screens against both UVB and UVA rays.

UVB rays are the ones that are thought to cause sunburns and other types of skin damage. UVA rays, on the other hand, are linked to the signs of aging. They’re likely to cause wrinkles and dark spots. You shouldn’t have to choose between one or the other, so look for a product that blocks both.

Another thing to look out for when choosing a sunscreen is the ingredients that actually protect the skin. You can usually choose between ingredients that physically block the sun, such as zinc oxide, or ingredients that produce a chemical filter that blocks the sun, such as oxybenzone. While either option will work, some find that physical sunscreens are better suited for people with sensitive skin than chemical filters.

Make Sense of SPF

You’ve probably seen sunscreens out there that claim to be SPF 85 or SPF 100, as well as sunscreens that are SPF 15 or SPF 30. That SPF 85 or 100 sure makes a product that only offers SPF 15 or 30 look pretty pathetic, right?

While SPF 100 sounds pretty impressive, it’s misleading. Once you get in the territory of SPF 30, you’re getting protection from about 98 percent of the sun’s UV rays. SPF 50 provides just a fraction more protection — just under 99 percent. There’s little proof to show that a product that claims to offer SPF 85 or SPF 100 actually provides significantly more protection than SPF 30 or 50.

There’s also the risk that you’ll skimp on sunscreen when you use a product that claims to offer such a significant amount of SPF protection or that you’ll end up spending more time outdoors in the sun because you think you’ve got extra protection.

For your own sake, stick with a sunscreen that provides at least SPF 30 and make sure you apply it correctly.

Once-a-Day Application Isn’t Enough

Speaking of proper application, using enough sunscreen, often enough is another essential part of getting adequate sun protection. Plenty of people assume that slathering on a layer of sunscreen before they head outside in the morning is sufficient for providing all-day protection.

The truth is, you need to apply sunscreen every two or three of hours to really benefit from it. Frequent application is a must if you’ve been sweating, swimming or otherwise spending time in the sun.

Another thing to keep in mind is that it’s important that you use enough sunscreen each time you put it on. Usually, using an ounce of sunscreen each time you apply it is enough to fully protect the entire body.

One way to make sure you’re getting enough sunscreen is to make sure you use skincare products that contain SPF. For example, in addition to using a moisturizer that has SPF, you can also use a foundation that has some sun protection as well as a makeup primer or setting spray with SPF. On their own, cosmetics might not contain enough sunscreen to provide adequate sun protection. But when used in combination with other sunscreens, they can give you an extra dose of protection.

Other Ways to Protect Against the Sun

Along with wearing sunscreen, there are a few other things you can do to physically block the sun and keep it from damaging your skin and eyes. Sunglasses that have UV protection are a must. Look for a pair with large frames to fully cover your eyes and the area around them. Skip mirror shades, which can reflect the sun’s rays onto exposed areas of your face.

Some clothing is also able to block the sun. Long sleeves and pant legs will limit the amount of skin that’s exposed, for example. Dark colors and tightly woven fabric are better at blocking the sun’s rays than loose, open weaves and light colors. Also, look for clothing and hats that have built-in sun-protection called UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).

Doing what you can to protect your skin from the sun can mean that you look youthful and healthy for as long as possible. To learn more about the effects of the sun on your skin and what you can do to protect yourself and to treat existing sun damage, schedule a consultation with Dr. Diane Walder, a leading dermatologist in the US. She offers a wide variety of treatments for sun damaged skin at her practice in Miami and can help you decide which one is most appropriate for you. To schedule a consultation with Dr. Walder or one of her associates, call 305-866-2177 today.