Whether you slather yourself in sunscreen religiously every day or usually forget, most of us have some false assumptions about sun protection. We all want to avoid skin damage, but many people make mistakes when it comes to protecting themselves from the sun's dangerous UVA and UVB rays.
Here are some of the most common sunscreen snafus and tips for making sure we look out for our body’s largest organ.
1. False Sense of Security
Sunscreen products are not all they are cracked up to be. Today’s sunscreens do not fully protect against all types of UV light, including both UVB and UVA. Even products claiming to be “broad spectrum” are heavily weighted towards UVB protection, which is what is reflected in the SPF rating. UVB rays directly burn and damage skin's DNA. But UVA rays can penetrate deeper and be even more damaging, without the burn.
Your best bet?
- Use a natural sunscreen containing zinc oxide, which is one of the few types that protect against the long and short UVA rays. Avobenzene is the other ingredient that is more effective against UVA rays, but it is chemical-based. Just don’t assume that use of these sunscreens can allow you to bake like a lobster in the scorching midday sun for hours on end.
- Cover up! Wear loose, light clothing, hats and sunglasses.
- Spend time outdoors in the morning and evening, when sun exposure is less intense. 10-4pm is when the sun is at its peak intensity.
2. Assuming Higher SPFs Are Better
Do you assume an SPF of 75+ is more protective than 50+? Think again. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings have been shown to be only marginally more effective (if at all) then a sunscreen with SPF 50. But people trust them more, apply them less frequently and have a false sense of security.
Sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer ample sunburn protection when applied correctly. The higher you go, the less balance you get between UVA and UVB protection. Higher SPF = higher UVB protection at the expense of shielding you from the UVA rays.
3. Too little, too late
Not applying a thick enough layer of sunscreen is a key mistake. Your best approach is to apply your sunscreen before you go out. Apply liberally, don’t skimp. If you are going to the beach or pool, apply the sunscreen while you are in your birthday suit to be sure to cover all areas. People tend to get cautious when applying sunscreen around their bathing suit or clothes for fear of staining. Don’t forget your feet, ankles, backs of legs, neck and ears! And don’t forget to reapply every 2 hours or so. Also, stay away from sprays, which aren’t as reliable as cream/lotion forms.
4. Water-Resistant Woes
Don’t be fooled into assuming you are good to go after a dip in the ocean. Although the sunscreen may state “water-resistant,” some of it is going to inevitably come off when you swim, and even more when you towel off. After a swim might be the right time to reapply.
5. Toxic Burden
Many sunscreens contain chemical ingredients and additives that have been linked to a slew of health woes. While you are trying to save your skin, you may be putting the rest of your body at risk. The Environmental Working Group is a great resource for learning more about this subject and locating sunscreens that are safe for your skin, your whole body, as well as coral reefs.
What About Vitamin D?
Between the use of sunscreen and sun avoidance, you might be worried about your vitamin D levels. And rightly so! Although some studies show that vitamin D production can still occur even with sunscreen use, there are many confounding factors like quantity used and frequency of application.
Lower SPF sunscreens allow more UVB to enter your skin for the vitamin D conversion to occur. One option might be to consider spending 20-30 minutes outdoors several times a week with a lower SPF sunscreen before reaching for the higher SPFs. But balance is key.
To ensure your vitamin D levels are optimal, an annual test is highly recommended. Aim for a result of 50-70 ng/ml. Although there are not a lot of vitamin D-rich foods, a few options you might consider to up your D are cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, mushrooms, eggs, and raw milk.
Most people do best taking a vitamin D supplement to ensure their levels are at the optimum range. But test, don’t guess! Don’t assume that just because one website says you need 2000 IU daily, that’s what your body needs. Everybody is different and supplementation should be tailored to your needs.