Do you know that Denver has 300 days of sunshine per year? That is more than any resort city situated on a beautiful beach overlooking blue water. With this much sunshine comes vitamin D and serotonin and a high risk of sun damage and skin cancer. The sun is stronger the closer you are to the equator; but when you are at a higher altitude, the sun’s rays are just as strong.
It is imperative to wear a daily sunscreen, but let’s not be lulled into a false sense of security about how sunscreen protects you. Let’s explore the differences between sunscreen and sun block, the SPF number, and the difference between chemical and physical sunscreens.
First of all, there are two types of sun damaging rays, UVA and UVB. The easiest way to remember the difference between the two types is: You Vill Age (UVA) and You Vill Burn (UVB). On cloudy days you are still exposed to 80% of ultraviolet radiation! If you are playing a sport on a cloudy day, you can still walk away with a sunburn and skin damage.
Now that you know the difference between UVA and UVB rays, let’s explore what SPF means. SPF is an acronym for Sun Protection Factor. On a bottle of sunscreen is a number, usually ranging from 5 to 50, and sometimes higher. If you have a sunscreen with a SPF of 25, this means that you can be in the sun for 25 times longer without burning. It is important to note that this does not equate to minutes. If you wear sunscreen of 25 and then later, use a sunscreen with SPF 50, this does not equate to a SPF of 75. It is incorrect to add the SPF numbers together.
You may have heard that there are physical and chemical sunscreens, so what is the difference? Is one better than the other? A physical sunscreen is also referred to as “sun block” because of the physical ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which literally block the ultraviolet light from your skin. If you went to a beach a saw a hunky lifeguard with white on his nose, this is an example of a physical sun block (also very popular in a multitude of colors in the ’80s). Chemical sunscreens reduce the amount of ultraviolet light that penetrates your skin through chemical absorption. Chemical sunscreens are lighter weight and can be used beneath makeup, and are excellent for daily use.
Neither a physical nor chemical sunscreen is better than the other, but there are better times to use one over the other. If you are preparing for a day at the beach, water skiing, running a marathon, snow skiing, or lying in a park sunbathing, you should use a physical sun block for the best results. Any activity that requires you to be in direct sunlight for an hour or more is the perfect scenario to use a physical sun block to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Anybody walking to a neighbor’s house, driving your car, sitting near a window, or walking to your mailbox and exposed to brief periods of sunlight should use a chemical sunscreen that provides a reduction in ultraviolet radiation.
Is your sun protection waterproof or water resistant? According to the American Melanoma Foundation, waterproof sun protection will “maintain the SPF for 80 minutes after exposure to water. Water resistant sun protection will maintain the SPF for 40 minutes after exposure to water.” If you are participating in a water activity or sports that will make you sweat, it is best to use a waterproof sun block. It is imperative to reapply your sun block at the appropriate time to maintain the same level of sun protection while you are in direct sunlight.
Everybody (and I mean men too) should wear a daily sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor of 15. It is important that if you use a daily sunscreen it is “broad spectrum.” Broad spectrum means that the sunscreen not only protects you from UVB rays, but also UVA rays. If your sunscreen does not have the words “broad spectrum” on the bottle, it will only protect you from the burning rays, not the aging rays. When choosing a daily sunscreen, it is entirely up to you whether your sun protection is in the form of a moisturizer or makeup, or whether you choose to use a straight sunscreen under your makeup.
Last but not least, you must apply the correct amount of sun protection to all your exposed areas and check the expiration date of your sunscreen. Let’s say your bottle of sunscreen has SPF of 25, so you should apply one ounce, which is approximately the size of a shot glass, to all exposed areas. One ounce on each arm and each leg will give you the SPF of 25. Check the expiration date on your bottle of sun screen and if it is past the date, it is best to dispose of the sunscreen and buy a new one. If you use an expired sunscreen you run the risk of not getting the sun protection because the ingredients are inactive and don’t perform as they should.
Let’s recap the rules for sun protection as we approach summertime in Colorado:
- There are two types of ultraviolet radiation — UVA and UVB
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen to protect against both types of radiation
- Use a daily sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15
- Use a physical sun block for activities in direct sunlight
- Reapply your sunscreen for the best protection
- Use an ounce of sunscreen per every exposed area
- Don’t use expired sunscreen
Here are a couple of other reminders:
- The sun is strongest between 10am-3pm
- Ultraviolet rays are even stronger when the sun reflects off of sand, water, and snow
- Use sunscreen on your lips, ears, around your eyes, and on your scalp
- Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
- Avoid falling asleep in direct sunlight
Here are some useful links to learn more information about sunscreen, self-examination, and the dangers of sun damage:
You can find a good variety of trusted brands of sun protection at Walgreens in downtown Denver at 16th and Stout or at Sephora in the Cherry Creek Mall.