As summer – and many outdoor adventures – approaches it is a good time to think more seriously about sun protection, for both our skin and our kids’. With all of the sunscreens, sunblocks, and other assorted sun protection products out there, it can be hard to know what to look for when shopping for both adults and children. We’re here to enlighten you on sun exposure and SPF smarts for everyone in your family.
What’s So Bad About Sun Exposure?
While basking in the sun’s warm rays can be heavenly, exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause sunburn, skin damage, premature aging, and are thought to cause skin cancer. There are two types of UV radiation to be concerned with: UVA and UVB. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation:
- UVA rays are the most common, and account for over 95% of the ultraviolet radiation we’re exposed to. UVA penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB, and can cause skin wrinkling, aging, and some types of skin cancers. UVA rays have relatively the same intensity year-round and can even penetrate through clouds and glass.
- UVB rays tend to damage the surface of the skin, and are the chief cause of sunburn and skin cancer. They vary in intensity during different times of the year, with greatest exposure to UVB rays in the US occurring from April through October in daylight hours – 10 am to 4 pm are the peak hours.
What To Look For When Shopping For Protection:
The only way to avoid any sun exposure is by staying inside with your windows covered, but who wants to be stuck indoors on a beautiful summer’s day? Fortunately, there are a number of great sun protection products on the market and a few standard factors you want too look for when shopping for protection.
- SPF: SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor,” and the number indicates a sunscreen’s ability to block UVB radiation. The higher the SPF, the longer you can stay in the sun without getting a sunburn, and the more UVB rays are blocked. For example, a product like Alba Botanica® Very Emollient Sunscreen SPF 50, when used as directed, blocks about 98% of the sun’s UVB rays (as a note, no sunscreen blocks 100%). But SPF only measures the product’s ability to protect from UVB rays, not UVA.
- Broad-Spectrum: Recent Federal Drug Administration (FDA) rules have changed the phrasing sunscreen manufacturers are allowed to use on their packaging. Any sunscreen claiming “broad spectrum” protection must now provide equal protection against both UVA and UVB radiation.
The Basics of Sunscreen Application:
Many people use far too little sunscreen, and applying less than what was used as the standard in the laboratory greatly reduces sunscreen’s SPF and overall effectiveness.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends:
- Adults use one ounce of sunscreen – that’s about one shot glass full – every time you apply (or re-apply).
- Sunscreen should be re-applied at least every two hours, and even more often if you’ve been swimming or active.
- Most sunscreens should be put on between 15 and 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the active UVA/UVB blocking ingredients to adhere to or absorb into your skin.
- Babies and kids older thank 6 months should use broad-spectrum sunscreens with at least an SPF of 15. Apply liberally to protect delicate and sensitive skin and to avoid painful sunburns.
- Babies under the age of 6 months should not use sunscreen and should be kept out of the sun.
Which Type Is Best For You?
Broad-spectrum sunscreens usually contain a number of different ingredients to block both UVA and UVB radiation, but the type of sunscreen you need depends on your preferences – you may prefer phthalate and paraben-free formulas – and how long you’ll be exposed to the sun.
Mineral: Mineral sunscreens use the light-reflecting power of zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (or both) to provide broad-spectrum protection by creating a physical barrier on the skin. Some mineral Sunscreens like Alba Botanica® Very Emollient Mineral Sunscreen for kids are even free of active ingredients that can harm coral reefs.
Non-Mineral: These sunscreens, if marked “broad-spectrum” contain ingredients that absorb into the skin and dissipate UVA/UVB rays protecting skin from free radical damage caused by sun exposure.
Sport/Waterproof: Sunscreens labeled “sport” or “waterproof” are more water resistant than regular sunscreens, and are a good choice if you are very active (read: sweat a lot) or spend a lot of time in the water. (Don’t forget that you’ll still need to re-apply frequently to ensure you’ve got adequate coverage.)
Kid’s Formulas: Kids sunscreens are often specially formulated to be gentle on children’s skin, and/or to be tear-free for babies and young children.
Spray-On Sunscreens: These are a good choice for active or squirmy kids (and adults on the go). The spray applicator makes it easier to give surfaces an even and thorough coat. Just remember to never spray sunscreen on or near kids’ faces – spray the sunscreen in your hands and apply it directly to their faces.
Daily Facial Sunscreen: Don’t forget about daily sunscreen application for your face and your lips. Facial sunscreens tend to be lighter weight to avoid clogged pores, and some are formulated to be translucent, so you can wear underneath makeup. Look for lip balms that have SPFs of 15 or higher for the most protection. Facial sunscreens and lip balms should be applied every day for the most protection over time.
Sunscreen is just one of the ways to protect your skin from the sun. There are a variety of products like UV blocking swimwear, clothing, glasses and hats that can also provide protection from sun damage. Being smart about sun exposure is the best way to protect your and your kids’ skin from annoying and painful sunburn, as well as from long-term sun damage. Remember the basics of skin protection so you can enjoy your time outdoors.