Sunscreen by the Numbers: How Much Do You Really Need?
You want to protect yourself and your family from the harmful rays of the sun — which are especially punishing at northern Nevada’s higher altitudes — but with rows upon rows of sunscreen to select, how do you choose? We asked an expert to break it down.
SPF, UVA, UVB, 15, 30, 45, 70 … what do all those letters and numbers mean? With hundreds of brands of sunscreen all vying for your attention, how do you choose one that’s right for you? Chrissy Capurro, licensed esthetician for Renown Health, helps shed some light on the subject.
Sunscreen: Your Burning Questions Answered
“A broad spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 is recommended by dermatologists,” says Capurro, who cautions that no sunscreen protects against 100 percent of UV radiation, and that re-application is necessary. “No matter the SPF, sunscreen must be applied adequately and frequently, meaning a ¼ teaspoon to cover the face and neck and a full shot glass amount for the body when wearing a bathing suit,” Capurro says. “Sunscreen must be applied every two hours when out in direct sunlight.”
What’s Right for Me?
Why not use a high SPF, such as 70 or 100? According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, they don’t offer significantly more protection than SPF 30, and mislead people into thinking they have a higher level of protection.
Here’s the breakdown:
- SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98 percent of UVB rays
- SPF 100 blocks 99 percent of UVB rays
Some helpful vocabulary:
- UVA = Long wave ultraviolet light. Penetrates deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer, causing tissue damage and wrinkles.
- UVB = Short wave ultraviolet light. Responsible for causing most skin cancers and are more prevalent during mid-day.
- SPF = Sun protection factor, calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to burn sunscreen-protected skin vs. unprotected skin. So, SPF 15 means you can stay in the sun 15 times longer than you could without protection.
Do certain populations require a higher SPF, like infants, seniors or those with previous histories of skin cancer?
Capurro explains: “Infants, seniors and those with a history of skin cancer must take precaution against UV radiation, as their skin is vulnerable. Sunscreen should be an absolute priority prior to spending time outdoors.”
For those populations, additional forms of protection should be exercised, including avoiding prolonged sun exposure and wearing a hat and protective clothing.
Due to the sensitive nature of an infant’s skin, babies under 6 months should not spend any time in the direct sun. For infants and toddlers 6 months and older, whose skin is thinner than adults, sunscreens containing only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (physical protectors) should be applied. Zinc and titanium are less likely to cause irritation because they do not penetrate the skin and instead sit on the surface and deflect UV radiation.
Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are key ingredients to seek out in a sunscreen due to their strong ability to deflect UV radiation.
What to Look For:
- Broad Spectrum Protection
Offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
- SPF – Sun Protection Factor
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends always using a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. For extended stays outdoors, use SPF 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours.
An 80-minute water-resistant brand is best. Reapply after water or sweat exposure.
- Active Ingredients
Read the back label and look for ingredients that reflect or absorb rays. Zinc or titanium dioxide are “actives,” always a great choice for sensitive skin.
- The Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation
Three categories include:
- The daily use seal
- The active seal
- The traditional seal
Learn more about what to look for when choosing a brand.
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