Updated: Aug 7
No matter the season, no matter location, and no matter the weather - sunscreen is the must-have essential that has to be applied daily. Unfortunately, very often, sunscreen is an afterthought. We apply it after we arrived at the beach or a football game. Many of us do not realize how much damage the Sun has done until it is too late. Our skin turned the bright red color that later turns into a sad wrinkly version of itself, and the skin cells' DNA is permanently damaged.
We must take the application of a sunblock seriously. The daily routine needs to include sunscreen, just like it includes teeth brushing. The sunscreen must be applied daily, re-applied through the day, and used in combination with protective clothing to preserve and maintain our delicate skin.
What Is UV?
The Sun is a source of life, but it is also a source of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The UV radiation is not visible, and thus we often forget how dangerous it could be. But the UV rays damage our skin, causing premature aging, skin cancer, wrinkles, and dark spots.
There are two types of UV radiation: UVA and UVB
Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays cause skin aging. UVA rays penetrate deep into our skin, creating wrinkles and dark spots. They also damage elastin and collagen in our skin.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays could cause skin cancer. UVB rays do not penetrate as deeply, but they cause a DNA mutation in a cell that could lead to cancerous growth. Skin Cancer Foundation, All About Sunscreen.
How do UVB and UVA rays affect me?
UVB and UVA rays are both harmful to our skin and overall health, but they act slightly differently.
UVA rays are responsible for damaging the outmost skin layer. Remember the time when you forgot to apply sunscreen, and the next day, your skin turned bright red and then tan - this is the work of UVA rays.
UVB rays are responsible for different kinds of damage. Their shorter waves penetrate the skin and affect cell structure on a DNA level. A damaged cell with an altered DNA sequence could potentially become cancerous.
To protect yourself from UVB rays, you need to look at the SPF indicator marked on a sunscreen bottle. I would recommend sticking to SPF30 or SPF60.
To protect your skin from UVA rays, you need to locate a sunscreen labeled "broad-spectrum" protection. The broad spectrum lotion protects from both UVA and UVB rays.
The significant difference between UVB and UVA is that UVA rays' intensity stays the same throughout the year. Unlike UVB rays, UVA rays penetrate clouds and windows, making it essential to apply sunscreen even indoors or on a cloudy day.
For the longest time, I had no idea what the SPF meant. Here is a good explanation from The Skin Cancer Foundation:
"SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The number tells you how long the Sun's UVB rays would take to redden your skin if you apply the sunscreen exactly as directed compared with the amount of time without sunscreen. So, if you use an SPF 30 product properly, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you used no sunscreen." Skin Cancer Foundation, All About Sunscreen.
The Long Term Effects Are Scary
We all had an unpleasant experience of getting a sunburn. It takes a few days for the skin to recover; the experience is painful but nothing that a few Advils cannot fix.
Once the apparent burn is gone, we have no reason to believe that the skin has sustained permanent damage. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of sun exposure linger and accumulate. The skin does partially recover from sun damage, but it never fully recovers. The skin cells' structure changes causing permanent wrinkles, dark spots, and potentially cancer.
So we must apply sunscreen daily, especially if we are heading outside to enjoy a sunny day.
Know Your Sunscreen
Sunscreen falls into a regulated substance as it is categorized as an over-the-counter drug. Although the effects of sunscreen usage are not fully known or understood, the FDA concluded that sunscreen should not contain oxybenzone.
FDA conducted a study of the most used sunscreen ingredients and identified oxybenzone as a dangerous substance. The research seems to suggest that sunscreen with oxybenzone can "interfere with the normal function of several hormones, including estrogen," and cause congenital disabilities. Consumer Reports, What You Need To Know About Sunscreen Ingredients.
Safe And Natural
FDA also identified a few ingredients that are natural and safe for people and the environment.
Titanium Dioxide is a naturally occurring mineral found in the earth's crust. It is known for its ability to soak up UV rays. While titanium dioxide effectively absorbs UVB rays, it is not very effective at absorbing UVA rays.
Another natural ingredient is Zinc Oxide. It offers broad-spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays. Made Safe, Sunscreen.
Additional Steps To Consider
Applying sunscreen is essential, but it is not the only step you need to take to protect yourself. Consider using sunscreen in combination with the following suggestions:
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside;
If you are swimming or sweating, re-apply the sunscreen immediately after;
The good practice is to re-apply the lotion every two hours;
The Skin Cancer Foundation advises applying sunscreen to the whole body before going outside;
Wear a hat and protective clothing;
Seek shade. (Skin Cancer Foundation, All About Sunscreen)
It is vital to reinforce the dangers of sun exposure. The UV rays are invisible yet very damaging to our skin. They cause skin cancer, premature aging, wrinkles, dark spots, and dull-looking skin.
The effects of UV radiation are real. Even if you are not into fancy skincare, you need to invest in sunblock and a hat. Shielding your skin from sun and UV rays could be the difference between having healthy skin and worrying about a suspicious new freckle or a red bump.
Take care and lather up!