Is there a difference between sunscreen and sunblock? Is sunscreen bad for you? What does SPF even stand for?
Here I tackle the most common sunscreen questions and myths that I hear from my Toronto-area clients.
First thing’s first, deciphering the back of the sunscreen bottle:
Sunscreen: Chemical Block – Penetrates skin and absorbs UVA rays before they are able to reach and damage your dermal layer.
Sunblock: Physical Block – Formulated to shield against UVB rays, while sunscreens protect against UVA.
Broad Spectrum UVA + UVB: = Sunscreen + Sunblock. Today most often a mixture of both sunscreen and sunblock can be found. Both kinds need to be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure.
SPF: Stands for Sun Protection Factor – the single most important thing that you can do to protect your skin regardless of age, skin type, color, or environment.
SPF 30: The number after SPF indicates how long it will take you to burn – for instance if your skin takes 10 minutes to burn without sunscreen then an SPF 30 will provide 30 times the protection. An SPF 30 will block out 97 percent of the suns rays – there is as of yet a sunblock to block out 100 percent of these rays. You should reapply SPF 30 every 2 hours.
UVA/UVB: The A in UVA stands for Aging and the B in UVB stands for Burning
Expiration date: The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for 3 years. Although it should not last you that long as you should be using it regularly.
Zinc/Titanium Dioxide: A sunscreen with zinc or titanium dioxide will be more gentle on a child’s skin or adults with extremely sensitive skin. This is also a great option if you are planning on enjoying any water activities in protected habitats (such as swimming with sea turtles or coral reefs) because certain sunscreens can be harmful to this type of environment.
Now that we understand what our sunscreen bottle means, here are the most common myths I hear regularly:
“I didn’t really get any sun, I just sat outside on a patio for lunch.”
The suns peak rays are at its strongest between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“I’ll be okay, I’ve got a base tan.”
Nope! There is no such thing as a safe tan. A base tan provides an SPF equivalent of SPF – a white t-shirt gives you the equivalent coverage of an SPF 7. A base tan simply starts the damage sooner.
“Tanning beds are safer than the sun.”
This could not be more untrue. Your risk of melanoma increases by 75 percent if you use tanning beds before the age of 35. Not only are you more vulnerable to melanoma but tanning bed users are 2.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.
“I’ve got naturally darker skin so I don’t have to worry about sunscreen as much.”
Nope! Bob Marley died from melanoma on his toe that was misdiagnosed as a soccer injury. Even if you have darker skin, you are still susceptible to cancer – darker skin simply hides the damage better.
“I read somewhere that sunscreen is so full of chemical it’s not good for you. It’s better to just not wear sunscreen.”
There are no studies to back up the recent claims that sunscreen contains carcinogenic or has an estrogen effect on the body. Oxybenzone, which is used in a lot of different sunscreens, was tested on rats. The research shows that you would have to use an SPF 30 on your entire body, applied 3 times daily for 35 years to reach a level of exposure that those rats did.
“I work inside all day, so I don’t need to wear sunscreen every single day.”
Regardless of being inside for the majority of your work day, the trips to and from work, your car window, stepping out to get a coffee, and even having a window in your workplace is “passive sun.” This means that even though we are not sitting directly in the sun we are still absorbing radiation. UVA damage can take place without your skin reddening so even though we may not look as though we are getting sun – it’s still happening.
The biggest takeaway here is how crucial it is to wear SPF every single day. While it is an extra step to take in the morning, incorporating it as parts of your grooming routine is the easiest way to make sure that you’re covered. Our skin is the largest organ in the body, and our first line of defense against the everyday, we have to protect it!