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The 411 On Sunscreen

Photo by Retha Ferguson from Pexels

Hear all that knockin’? It sounds like spring. Even though she has yet to arrive, Lord knows that when spring comes, summer is not far behind.

So since there’s still some time to prepare for the impending sun and fun, let’s talk about a summer essential that will safeguard your skin, both looks- and health-wise: sunscreen!

It’s no secret now that sunscreen is a vital part of summer living, especially for the less-melanated among us. But no matter where your skin falls on the rainbow, you can’t go wrong with slathering up before heading out into the summer sunshine.

There seems to be some confusion around what the best SPF, ingredients, and sunscreen in general is. Today we’re giving you the lowdown on what to look for in your sunscreen so your skin can glow burn-free all season long.

First, let’s settle what SPF means once and for all.

SPF stands for sun protection factor, which is an indicator of how long the sunscreen will protect you from ultraviolet B (UVB) rays). UVB rays are the culprit behind sunburns and the most common forms of skin cancer, as they target and damage the epidermis, otherwise known as the outermost layer of skin. Therefore, the higher the SPF, the better the protection is, and the longer it will last. How does SPF work, though? Well, take the amount of time it takes for you to burn in the sun without wearing any protection, and then multiply it by the SPF number. For example, if it takes you 20 minutes to burn in the sun without protection, then SPF 15 will protect you for 300 minutes, or 20 minutes times 15.

SPF numbers can shoot up to 100, but in reality, if you’re wearing something between 15 and 60, then you’re in the clear. However, if you’re partaking in water activities or any activities that get you sweating a lot, then be sure to reapply every hour.

Quick question, though: do you know what’s in the sunscreen you’re rubbing all over your beautiful self?

Statistics predict that the answer is a big, fat no.

Can’t blame you, though; why bother looking at sunscreen ingredients when they’re such a mouthful, anyway? One of the worst offenders, oxybenzone, is found in up to 80% of all sunscreens, including brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno, and Coppertone. Oxybenzone blocks UV rays but is also absorbed by the skin, where it has been linked to hormone dysfunction in the body. Oxybenzone plays a role in early-onset puberty in women, endometriosis, low sperm count in men, and male infertility. Suddenly a sunburn doesn’t sound so bad.

Another popular sunscreen ingredient, octinoxate, is less lethal than oxybenzone but not without its concerns, either. Not only does it disperse the harmful UVB rays that hit the skin, but it is relatively cheap, so it keeps the cost of sunscreen low. Like oxybenzone, octinoxate is linked to developmental and hormonal dysfunction in humans. It can also be found in “natural” sunscreens, but the chemical still poses health risks, so the jury is out on who’s making that decision.

Did you know there are actually two types of sunscreens?

Yep, it’s true. There are chemical and physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens use–surprise!–chemicals like oxybenzone and octinoxate to keep the rays at bay. This kind of sunscreen soaks into your skin and can cause some of those health hazards mentioned earlier. Physical sunscreens, like sunblock, sit on top of your skin and act as a nice little shield against the sun. Zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are usually the active ingredients in these kinds of sunscreens.

So what’s the scoop on safe (and unsafe) sunscreen ingredients?

In addition to oxybenzone and octinoxate, keep an eye out for aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and trolamine salicylate. The FDA has officially declared these ingredients unsafe for use in sunscreens and it is being phased out of use. Like oxybenzone and octinoxate, they can trigger hormonal disruptions. If you’re looking for safe sunscreen ingredients, go with something that sits on top of the skin and doesn’t get absorbed by the body, like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The FDA has approved both of these chemicals for safe use in sunscreens.

Unlike chemical sunscreens, we hope all of this sinks in. There’s a lot to remember when scouting a new sunscreen. If you’re armed with the right knowledge about what is and isn’t good for your skin, though, then making the right choice is a (summer) breeze.

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