Burning up this summer? As summer blossoms into full swing, your skin needs a bodyguard. Sunscreen is the biggest, baddest, bodyguard against your skin’s greatest enemy this summer: the sun!
What exactly is sunburn?
When a nasty sunburn occurs, your skin turns red and eventually may start to peel off. Sunburn is actually a radiation burn and exposes the cells of your skin to a small dose of radioactivity. The radiation reaches your skin in the form of UVA and UVB rays from the sun. Your cells start to undergo genetic mutations. Since our bodies naturally protect from such radiation mutations, your skin cells recognize this mutation and immediately undergo a process to stop it. Your cells commit suicide! This is where the peeling of the skin comes along. If our bodies didn’t undergo this process, these cells would eventually become cancerous. Scared yet?
What is a tan?
A tan is your body’s way to protect your cells. A certain protective pigment in your skin cells is called melanin and is produced inside of cells called melanocytes. When your skin cells get burnt repeatedly, the cells with the pigment try to curl around the cells in danger to protect them from the sun. Interestingly, these pigmented cells are the only reason why human beings have different skin tones as well. Darker skin is full of these pigmented cells close to the surface, while pale skinned individuals have these cells buried deeper within their skin. This also explains why some nationalities burn more than others.
Is sunscreen magical? How does it work?
Most sunscreens work by either scattering the sun’s UV rays away from the skin, or by simply absorbing the sun’s rays. The chemicals in sunscreen have certain chemical properties needed to protect your skin. Without getting too involved, chemicals like zinc oxide or titanium oxide work to help scatter the sun’s UV rays. Chemicals like octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone help absorb harmful rays.
What exactly does SPF mean?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. SPF was developed with testing how the sunscreen protects sun exposure versus no sunscreen at all. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF value of 4 will protect your skin from burning 4 times longer than it would without sunscreen. This means that if your skin normally burns in 10 minutes, an application of SPF 4 sunscreen will keep you from burning for 40 minutes (granted the sunscreen is applied properly). SPF 15 means the sun will protect your skin 15 times longer than it would without sunscreen.
How do you protect yourself?
Every sunscreen is different. Most dermatologists recommend to use a sunscreen with protection of SPF 15 or greater. Personally I’d recommend to use SPF 30 or greater and to reapply sunscreen at least every 30 minutes. It is also important to reapply after swimming, towel drying, or cloth wearing. Another tip is to apply to yourself while naked before going out in the sun initially. This will help you avoid all those little spots you may not realize you need to cover.
Overall, sunscreen in the summer is essential to your skin’s health. Use sunscreen to protect your skin this summer!
Sources: Centers for Disease Control, National Institute of Health, American Academy of Dermatology