Know Your Sunscreen!

The sun is finally here and shining and I’m sure most of us are planning on spending A LOT of time outside this summer (I know I am!!!). However, I’ve started to feel like the sun has been getting stronger and stronger, meaning more protection is needed. As we now have more and more information about the harmful rays of the sun, it’s important that we practice safe measures in order to avoid dangerous health issues such as burns and, you know, skin cancer.

So sunscreen is key to be able to play in the sun all day without deteriorating into a puny dried grape. However, who TRULY knows the meaning of SPF levels? I’ve heard all kinds of different things about it and I’m here now to shed some light on the whole shebang.

Before we try and clarify SPF levels, it’s important to note what to avoid and what to have in a good sunscreen lotion. According to a CNN Health article which warns about the potential harmful ingredients of some sunscreens, they warn that your sunscreen:
  • Should not contain Retinyl Palminate, a toxic ingredient that may increase the risk of skin cancer when exposed to the sun;
  • Should not contain Oxybenzone, a toxic ingredient that can cause hormone disruption, which leads to cell damage and ultimate skin cancer;
  • Should not be higher that an SPF 50. (we’ll see why later);
  • Should be labelled “broad spectrum”, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB (Ultra Violet rays that cause Aging and Burning); and
  • Should be a lotion. Lotions ensure that your skin is evenly protected, as opposed to sprays.

Always apply sunscreen after you’ve been in the water (even if your sunscreen is waterproof) or after extensive sweating.

Top 3 recommended sunscreens
1. La Roche-Posay Antherios Sunscreen (40$). Yes, it is an expensive product, but it’ll work wonders for you!

2. L’Oreal Ombrelle Complete (27$).

3. Coppertone Sensitive Skin (14$). This is for sure the cheapest option. If you can’t find this type exactly, make sure you check the ingredients on the bottle to match the criteria above. Not all Coppertone sunscreens are actually good for your skin.

If you’re not sure about the sunscreen you’re purchasing, you can check their health risks here:

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) can be really confusing, especially when you’re standing in the sunscreen isle and you’re trying to figure out which one is best for you.

First off, it’s important to know that SPF only protects against UVB, which is why it’s important that your sunscreen be labelled broad spectrum.

Second, all SPFs have much of the same protection against UVB:
SPF 15 = 93%
SPF 30 = 97%
SPF 50 = 98%
SPF 100+ = 99%

So you can see that purchasing a product beyond SPF 50 is essentially useless and only costs you more money because the protection is the same. So why purchase different SPF levels? It all depends on your skin tone. If it usually takes you about 20 minutes to start getting a sunburn, then an SPF 15 will cover you 15 times longer, so 300 minutes (5 hours).  However, the sun breaks down the ingredients in the sunscreen that protect your skin and most people don’t put nearly as much, so their skin isn’t actually protected for the full amount of time. In fact, we should be applying about the size of a shot glass of lotion every two hours to ensure continued protection.

You can follow this table to see which SPF you should be using according to your skin tone (source):
1. Always burns, never tans = SPF 25 or higher
2. Burns easily, tans eventually = SPF 15
3. Sometimes burns, tans slowly = SPF 15
4. Occasionally burns, tans well = SPF 8
5. Hardly ever burns, tans well = SPF 6
6. Never burns = SPF 2

Note that it is always recommended to use a minimum of SPF 15, no matter your skin tone.

Important Factors to Remember
  1. Don't forget that reflection will intensify UV exposure (source):
Water - 5% to 7%
Grass - 2.5% to 3%
Sand - 20% to 30%
Snow and Ice - 80% to 90% (no, sunscreen is NOT only for summer days)

  1. Always check the UV index of the day on your local weather website. Once the risk is high, make sure to bump up your SPF by a level to ensure longer protection since it would take a shorter time for your skin to burn.
  2. Here are other steps that Health Canada recommends you take to protect against UV exposure:
    1. If possible, avoid being in the sun between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
    2. Look for shade, stay under a tree, or use an umbrella.
    3. During outdoor activities, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. When the UV index is three or higher, you should also wear protective clothing and a large-brimmed hat.
    4. Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of your skin.

Have fun in the sun and most importantly, be safe!! J
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