Helpful Guide to Sunscreen

Staying safe during the spring and summer in Florida means making sure you keep your skin protected while outside.

Most people understand that wearing sunscreen is important, but if you’ve ever stood in front of the sunscreen aisle at your local store, you know that there are many products available. So, before you make your selection, it’s good to know a little bit about sunscreen.

UVA and UVB Rays: What’s the Difference?

The sun delivers ultraviolet (UV) rays, which are a form of radiation. There are three types of these rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC. UVC rays do not reach the Earth’s surface, but UVA and UVB rays do.

UVA rays penetrate more deeply than UVB rays and can damage connective tissue below the surface of the skin. UVA rays cause your skin to prematurely age and wrinkle. These rays can pass through window glass. UVB rays cause sunburn but can be blocked by glass. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer.

What is SPF and what does the number mean? 

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), the best sunscreen is one that you will use again and again. The AAD recommends choosing a product that is water resistant with at least an SPF of 30 and provides broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays.

A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 can block up to 97% of UVB rays. Higher SPF sunscreens can block slightly more, but no sunscreen blocks 100% of the harmful rays. However, sweating and getting wet affect how long the sunscreen will protect you. So before you spend hours in the sun thinking you are protected, make sure you are covered … literally.  Be sure to follow the usage directions and re-apply when necessary.

Dr. Daniel Haight, Vice President of Community Health for Lakeland Regional Health, provides some additional tips to help make sure your time outside is not ruined by a sunburn, and more importantly, that you limit sun damage that can lead to skin cancer.

Sun Protection Tips
  • The sun can damage your eyes too. Sunglasses are not just for looking cool but also protective.
  • Don’t get “burned” by old expired sunscreen. The effectiveness lessens over time and you may think you are protected only to find out that you were not.
  • Make sure you liberally apply the sunscreen ahead of your sun exposure since it works better if bound strongly to the skin before you start sweating or swimming. (The AAD recommends 15 minutes before sun exposure.)
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours or more frequently if you spend time in water or have been sweating. A higher SPF number does not mean it lasts longer – it still must be re-applied as directed.
  • Do not forget the obvious: Seek out shade and find those places where there is the addition of shade structures over playgrounds or umbrellas when you are at the beach or playground.
  • Make sure you get total coverage with your sunscreen: Any spot you miss will burn, such as the tops of your ears, the tops of your feet, the backs of your knees and hands, and the skin on your scalp. The hair on your head is not always a guarantee that your scalp is protected, especially if you have thinning hair. Don’t forget to protect your lips with a lip balm or lipstick of SPF 30 or higher.
  • The AAD reminds us that snow, water and sand reflect the sun’s rays and can worsen the damaging effects to your skin.
  • Get a broad brimmed hat that provides protection for the sides and the back of your head.
  • A previous diagnosis of skin cancer or certain medications you take can make you more vulnerable in the sun, so be sure to check with your doctor if you have any concerns about sun exposure.

The warmer months are upon us, but the sun can damage skin year round and even on cloudy days, so make sure you and your family stay protected every month of the year.