It can be daunting to walk into a store and be met with the shelves and shelves of sunblock and sunscreen for sale. There's such a wide variety of products to choose from that it can be difficult to figure out which one is best for you and your family.
Before you restock your sunblock supply this summer, read on to learn what you need to know to make the right choice.
What is the difference between sunblock and sunscreen?
Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, sunblock and sunscreen are not identical.
True to its name, sunblock actively prevents the sun's UV rays from every coming into contact with your skin. It achieves this by including minerals such as zinc or titanium oxide that act as a physical barrier to deflect the rays. Sunblocks are usually thicker and more opaque in appearance than sunscreens. Newer formulations contain micronized minerals, which feel sheerer on the skin and are available in user-friendly sprays.
The chemicals in sunscreen, on the other hand, absorb a portion of sun's ultraviolet radiation. While sunscreens may be formulated to absorb a majority of this radiation, they do not offer the same level of sun protection as sunblocks. Common UV-filtering ingredients in sunscreen include avobenzone, benzophenone and oxybenzone.
What SPF do I need?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing SPF 30 or higher every day – not just when you're lying out by the pool or on the beach. Even on cloudy days, the sun’s rays can be damaging.
If you burn easily, a higher SPF will provide greater sunburn protection. But don’t depend on a higher SPF to provide more protection from skin cancer.
What does SPF stand for?
SPF ratings refer to the ability of a particular sunblock or sunscreen to block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and is a relative measure of how long the sunblock will protect you from UVB rays.
The sun emits two types of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to your risk of skin cancer, but UVB rays are the ones that cause sunburn, while UVA rays may be more closely linked to deeper, more long-term skin damage, such as premature aging. Sunblocks provide protection against both types of radiation.
However, as a sunscreen's SPF number increases, the amount of protection the product provides against skin cancer does not increase exponentially. For example, an SPF of 15 absorbs 93.3 percent of UVB rays, while an SPF of 30 absorbs 96.7 percent and an SPF of 50 absorbs 98 percent.
There is no sunscreen that absorbs 100 percent of UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology warns that higher SPFs do not allow you to spend additional time outdoors without reapplication.
What does “broad spectrum” mean?
The Federal Drug Administration allows brands to label their sunblock as “broad spectrum” if it has been proven to protect against both UVA and UVB rays (although UVA protection is generally weaker than UVB protection).
Sunblock with an SPF of 15 or more that is labeled as “broad spectrum” may also be labeled as preventing sunburn, skin cancer and aging due to sun exposure.
FDA guidelines state that any sunblock with an SPF over 50 should be labeled as SPF 50+, as an SPF over 50 is not necessarily more effective than SPF 50.
How much sunblock do I need?
Most people do not apply sunblock as much or as frequently as they should to ensure maximum protection. As a general rule, use enough sunblock to fill a shot glass (about one ounce) and apply it to every area of your skin that will be exposed to the sun.
Apply sunblock to dry skin at least 15 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating.
In addition to wearing sunblock, avoid spending too much time outdoors during the sun’s peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.), stay in the shade as much as possible, and wear long-sleeved UV-protection clothing and a broad-brimmed hat when you are outdoors.
Dealing with skin cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed today. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, contact the cancer care experts at Goshen Center for Cancer Care for world-class cancer treatment.