Celebrate UV Safety Month this July by taking a moment to review your sunscreen label.
As we approach some of the warmest temperatures during the summer months, it becomes essential to pay close attention to your sunscreen label and prioritize skin protection due to the peak UV Index during this season.
Broad Spectrum: It's important that your sunscreen label reads "broad spectrum," which means that it offers protection from both UVA (ultraviolet A) and UVB (ultraviolet B) rays. Both UVA and UVB rays can contribute to the development of skin cancer, although they do so through different mechanisms.
- UVA rays have slightly lower energy levels but penetrate deeper into the skin than UVB rays. While they are less likely to cause immediate sunburn, they are more abundant and can contribute to long-term skin damage, premature aging (such as wrinkles and age spots), and an increased risk of skin cancer. UVA rays can also cause DNA damage, albeit in a more indirect manner than UVB rays. They generate free radicals, which are reactive molecules that can harm cellular structures, leading to skin cell damage and potential carcinogenesis (cancer development).
- UVB rays have higher energy levels than UVA rays and are primarily responsible for causing sunburn on the skin's surface. They also play a significant role in the development of most skin cancers, including the two most common types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). UVB rays can directly damage the DNA in skin cells, leading to genetic mutations that can trigger the growth of cancerous cells. This is why sunburns, which are caused by excessive UVB exposure, are considered a risk factor for skin cancer.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF): SPF is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to protect your skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
The SPF number is a multiplier that helps determine how much longer you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned compared to not wearing sunscreen. For example, if you typically start to burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, an SPF 30 sunscreen theoretically allows you to stay in the sun 30 times longer (300 minutes or 5 hours) before burning. It's essential to note that no sunscreen can offer complete protection from the sun, and SPF numbers are not directly proportional to the level of protection. For instance, SPF 30 does not provide twice as much protection as SPF 15. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and applying it generously and frequently for adequate sun protection.
Expiration Date: Over time, the active ingredients in sunscreen can degrade, making them less effective at blocking or absorbing UV rays. This means that the product's stated SPF (Sun Protection Factor) may no longer hold true, and you might not get the level of protection you expect. Expired sunscreen may undergo changes in its chemical composition, leading to potential skin reactions or allergies in some individuals.
Wearing protective clothing, seeking shade, and avoiding peak sun hours are other important measures you can take to safeguard your skin from the sun's effects. To enhance your knowledge, check out the American Academy of Dermatology's article, 'How to Decode Sunscreen Labels.' Whether you're applying sunscreen for daily use or considering purchasing a new bottle, reading up on the details will help you make well-informed decisions.