Sunscreen Defined: What You Need to Know About Sunscreen

We all know that we should wear sunscreen because it protects our skin from getting those nasty, painful sunburns. Unfortunately, most of us don't realize how important wearing sunscreen on a daily basis really is, even when you aren't on vacation.

Here are some facts according to The Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.
  • Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
  • Over the past 31 years, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
  • About 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

Skin cancer is a real epidemic. You can save yourself a lot of money trying to reverse the damage caused on the skin by sun and lower your chances of getting skin cancer just by wearing sunscreen everyday. With all of the choices available on the sunscreen market these days, it's easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start.

Half the battle of shopping for a sunscreen that is right for you is knowing exactly what sunscreen is and how it works to protect your skin. Here are some things you should be familiar with before making your next sunscreen purchase:

UVA Rays
UVA stands for Ultraviolet (Aging) Rays. These sunrays are short, absorbed by the epidermis and are responsible for tanning your skin. Think scoring a summer tan makes you look young and youthful? Think again. Tanned skin equals sun-damaged skin. Tanned skin leads to premature aging of the skin.

UVB Rays
UVB stands for Ultraviolet (Burning) Rays. These sun rays are longer than UVA rays. They penetrate deeper into the skin than UVA rays because they cut though the epidermis and get all the way down into the dermis. UVB rays are responsible for causing sunburns. Sunburns can lead to cancer. According to The Skin Cancer Foundation, it only takes one blistering sunburn to double your risk of melanoma.

UVC Rays
UVC stands for Ultraviolet (Cancer) Rays. Luckily, our planet has the Ozone Layer, which acts as a built-in sunscreen that helps protects us from these deadly, cancer-causing rays.

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF refers to the amount of protection your skin gets from UVB rays. It's the amount of time your skin can be in the sun before it starts to burn. SPF is also a good indication of how often you should reapply the sunscreen. The higher the SPF in a sunscreen, the higher concentration of ingredients the sunscreen will have. For example: if you're wearing a sunscreen with an SPF 8, only 90% of the UVB rays will be blocked. You wont get any protection from the UVA rays. If you're wearing an SPF 15, your protection from UVB rays is a little better because 93% of these rays will be blocked. Plus, you get a little bit of protection from the UVA rays. Wearing a sunscreen with SPF 30 means that 96% of the UVB rays will be blocked and you still only get a little bit of protection from UVA rays.

Broad-spectrum means that the sunscreen provides both UVA and UVB protection. Even though there isn't a sunscreen out there that will completely protect you from all of the UV rays, it's important to choose a sunscreen that will provide you with the most protection for your specific sun exposure.

Chemical Sunscreen
Chemical sunscreens absorb the sunscreen's ingredients and therefore neutralize the UV rays. When shopping for a chemical sunscreen, look for active ingredients such as Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone, Oxtinoxate, Menthyl Anthranilate or Oxtocrylene.

Physical Sunscreen
Physical sunscreens act as a physical block on top of the skin. These sunscreens reflect the UV rays instead of absorbing them and neutralizing them like chemical sunscreens do. Physical sunscreens don't irritate the skin because they don't absorb the chemicals from the sunscreen. This is why sensitive skin types should opt to wear a physical sunscreen over a chemical one. When shopping for a physical sunscreen, look for active ingredients such as Zinc or Titanium Dioxide.

At SkinSpirit, we carry only our favorite sunscreens from brands such as SkinCeuticals, mybody, Colorescience, DermaQuest and SkinMedica.

Need helping finding the right sunscreen for you? Come into any one of our three locations in Palo Alto, Walnut Creek or Mill Valley for a free consultation.


Disclaimer: Information and content within this blog is provided for informational purposes only. This blog is not intended to provide medical advice, and anything read here should not be construed as such. Reading this blog or communicating with our staff does not create a physician-patient relationship. If you have questions about any health issue, including something you may have read here, please consult a licensed, trained physician or health professional immediately.

In the press

VogueWomen's HealthELLEstyleThe New York TimesUSA Today