A Word About Sunscreen
HOW DOES IT WORK? WHAT DOES IT DO? WHAT TO USE?
- While some sun exposure is essential for your health,excessive exposure is not good and can cause long term skin damage. Once your skin takes on a slight hue of pink you had your share of sun for the day and it is time to put on sunscreen or get into the shade.
- Sunscreens ought to filter both UVA & UVB rays (broad spectrum sunscreens) – Most don’t!
- Alternatives to sunscreen or additional methods to prevent over exposure is using clothing or other coveringsessentially providing “shade” to your body.
- As teenagers in particular we should steer clear of these sunscreens containing oxybenzone – it is a known hormone-disruptor
Summertime! Time to go to the beach, hang out at the river or park with your friends, just time to be outside! Running, swimming, soccer camp, or just hanging out.
I am sure all of you have been ingrained with the notion that you must ALWAYS put on that pesky sun screen. It is not only annoying to most of us but it is also something we mostly just accept as the right thing to do (even though …. admitted…. we occasionally skip and neglect!). Matter of fact, some schools or daycares will not even allow you to go outside, if you do not have sun screen to put on! So unfair!
So let’s look at what this is all about…..
Types of Radiation and the Real Purpose of Sunscreen:
There are two forms of UV radiation that reach the Earth’s surface: UVA and UVB. The UVB has lower wavelength, but higher energy than UVA. Interestingly, even though it has the higher energy, it does not penetrate deeper into your skin than UVA. This is because while UVB is absorbed by your body rather efficiently, UVA radiation is not. This allows it essentially to slip through and penetrate deep into your dermis, potentially causing skin damage…. this also means your risk for wrinkles shoots up. Ugh!
As a response to the exposure to either of these the skin starts a repair process to mediate any damage, and also creates melanin, a skin pigment that acts as a natural sunscreen… YESSSSS… a tan!!!!!
In an ideal case the amount of sun exposure, repair potential, and melanin created are all nicely balanced. So you get a bit of a tan, your skin nicely heals, and the sun exposure has given you all the perfect amount of benefits such as Vitamin D production and everything else.
Unfortunately, the ideal case is often… well exceeded and pushed to and beyond the limit. Once your skin starts showing a light touch of pink you have reached your ideal sweet spot, but if you are in a middle of a soccer game, tennis match or just at the beach with your buddies, it is hard or sometimes even impossible to extract yourself from continued exposure.
That is where sunscreen comes in….
SPF measures sunscreen protection from UVB rays, the kind that cause sunburn and contribute to skin cancer. SPF does not measure how well a sunscreen will protect from UVA rays, which are also damaging and dangerous. While SPF numbers start at 2 and have just recently reached 100, dermatologists generally recommend using a SPF15 or SPF30 sunscreen.
To figure out a more personalized application and how long you can stay in the sun with a given SPF, use this equation
Minutes to burn without sunscreen x SPF number = maximum sun exposure time
Biggest problem though is that this is an ideal scenario, where nothing rubs, washes, or seats off your screen. Since such is rather utopian, it is still recommended to reapply the sunscreen about every 2 hours or after your last swim.
How Does Sunscreen Work?
Sunscreens, which can be sprays, lotions, gels or waxes, are usually made up of a mix of chemicals. Inorganic chemicals in sunscreen can reflect or scatter the light away from the skin, and organic (carbon-based) ones can absorb UV rays so that our skin doesn’t.
Among the inorganic chemicals are minerals such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They reflect UV rays, similar to how white paint reflects light. The white-colored noses on beach-goers in the 1980s and 1990s were due to these compounds; because manufacturers make the inorganic particles much smaller now, we don’t see the visible white.
Some organic chemicals are for instance avobenzone or oxybenzone. Instead of physically deflecting UV light, these molecules absorb UV radiation through their chemical bonds. As the bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat.
Sunscreen lotions labeled broad-spectrum block against both UVA and UVB, but currently there is no standard for listing UVA blocking power. Inorganic chemicals that deflect sunlight will deflect both UVA and UVB rays, the organic ones not necessarily.
Plus the organic chemicals are getting more and more under scrutiny for potential serious hazardous side effects. Everything from hormone disruptions to outright causing cancer including skin cancer.
According to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an advocacy group based in Washington D.C., scientists found that oxybenzone absorbs into the skin and is present in urine long after sunscreen is applied. Especially since this chemical is known to be hormone-disrupting, researchers have suggested not using sunscreens containing this chemical on children, according to the EWG report. Grrrreeeaaat!
So us TEENAGERS, who already have to deal with our own hormone challenges, I would guess, just as the children mentioned in this report, should probably steer clear of these sunscreens containing oxybenzone.
Personally I prefer a simple zinc oxide based sunscreen and using my clothing to protect myself from excess exposure. Basic clothing is a good start, some clothing even has extra sun blocking materials woven in.
So let’s keep the chemicals to a minimum &
use good sense when it comes to getting that tan!!!