Being that this is a mid summer newsletter, I hope this information doesn’t reach you too late. Unless you have been living in a dark cave for the past 20 years, you have likely read that we should be applying sun screen if we plan on being in the sun (especially if you’ve been living in the aforementioned cave). Unlike the dog days of summer circa 1987 when we would lube up in Johnson & Johnson Baby Oil and sauté ourselves, we now know that too much sun is no bueno.
However, like any other health concern of our day, there is more than enough fear mongering to give us a heart attack long before we can ever get a sun burn or the feared ‘Big C’. You can walk into any store and find shelves full of sunscreen with SPF (Sun Protection Factor) that range from 10-100. They can be applied as a lotion, glide stick or spray. So how do you know what is the best choice?
The chemicals that form a product’s SPF are aimed at blocking ultraviolet B rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn and non-melanoma skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma (von Thaler 2010). Ultraviolet A rays penetrate deeper into the skin and are harder to block with sunscreen ingredients approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration for use in U.S. sunscreens. UVA exposure suppresses the immune system, causes harmful free radicals to form in skin, and is associated with higher risk of developing melanoma.
Bottom line is that higher SPF numbers have been reported to lull us into a fall sense of security. Sunbathers often assume that they get twice as much protection from SPF 100 sunscreen as from SPF 50. In reality, the extra protection is negligible. Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen blocks 98 percent of UVB rays; SPF 100 blocks 99 percent. When used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for people most sensitive to sunburn.
The key component to avoiding getting burnt (literally and figuratively) is to reapply every 2-3 hours and to use lotions, not sprays. Sprays may be convenient, but they tend to cover less area and the areas they do cover are typically covered unevenly and with less than you would think. Lotions work best. If you are applying to an infant, it’s always best to apply to a small test area first, like the back of the wrist to see if they have any sensitivity and/or allergic reactions.
We have come a long way from rubbing Crisco on our bodies and holding a reflective board around our faces. Heed the harmful rays and don’t let all the noise about SPF block you from enjoying the rest of the summer.
Of course, no article about sun screen would be complete without reflecting back on one of the most infamous commencement speeches to the Class of 1999; Baz Luhrmann’s Wear Sun Screen!