The weather is (finally and thankfully!) getting warmer around here and, with the sun shinning, all I want to do is go for walk or go to the pool! However, I’m so pale I have to protect my skin when I’m out so that I don’t risk a very painful sunburn. Every year I hear people talking about the dangers of sun exposure and how using sunscreen correctly is important, but what I think is lacking is a guide on how to do so. We all know that from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. it’s not a good idea to be out in the sun much but do you know your phototype or what that is, even? Do you know how much sunscreen to apply? Did you know your clothes might not protect you from the sun and its effects? Keep on reading for some interesting information.
First and foremost, you need to know your skin. This is where phototype comes into play. Phototype is simply a pretty, intelligent and scientific word to what we usually and generally refer to as complexion or skin color – the only difference is that when you are determining your phototype, you also take into consideration your hair and eye color. Below, you can see a description of phototypes so you can determine for yourself which one you are. Please note that some people use a scale from 1 up to 10 phototypes, and some only consider 4 phototypes - so it all depends on who you’re talking to. The list below is to serve merely as an indication.
Phototype 1 - Very pale skin, often has freckles, blue/hazel eyes, blond/red hair. Always burns, usually does not tan.
Phototype 2- Fair skin, blue eyes. Burns easily, tans poorly.
Phototype 3- Darker white skin, light brown hair and eyes. Tans homogeneously after initial burn.
Phototype 4- Light brown or olive complexion. Skin Burns minimally, tans easily.
Phototype 5- Brown skin, eyes and hair. Rarely burns, tans darkly easily.
Phototype 6- Dark brown or black skin. Almost never burns, always tans darkly.
When in doubt, it is said that you are lower of the two phototypes you have the characteristics of. For instance, if you have an olive completion but you burn and then tan, you are considered to be a phototype 3 and not a 4. Now that that is set, let’s focus on the sunscreen itself.
SPF, UVA and UVB are the letters you need to remember when shopping for a sunscreen. SPF means Sun Protection Factor and is usually how the “strength” of a product is measured. Contrary to popular belief, the number that usually follows the SPF acronym is not the percentage of protection a product offers, rather, it’s the number of times it protects your skin vs. your skin’s natural defenses. An example, so it is easier to understand, is that an SPF 15 will give your skin 15 times the protection it would have against sun rays if you applied nothing at all to it. UVA and UVB are the radiations the sun emits that are currently thought to cause damage to our skin. An easy way to remember why these are taken into consideration when companies formulate their products is to remember that UVA rays causes Aging and UVB causes Burning. Nowadays, they are thought to be equally dangerous and that is why you see sunscreen that protects both against UVA and UVB rays – these are called broad spectrum sunscreens.
Now you know what to look for in the front label of you sunscreen: what kind of protection it offers (UVA, UVB or both) and how much protection you’ll get from it (the SPF). What about the back label? The one with all those tiny letters that spell ingredients that are hard to pronounce and that we sometimes forget to look at? The American FDA recognizes as safe 16 active ingredients but these generally only fall into one of two categories: the absorbers and the reflectors. The names are pretty much self explanatory as to why they are different but take note that the absorbers are homosalate, octisalate (also called octyl salicylate), octinoxate (also called octyl methoxycinnamate or OMC), octocrylene, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. The reflectors are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. You will seldom find a sunscreen that has only one of these ingredients, but the higher the content of active ingredients, the better it will be.
Always, always choose a sunscreen that feels good on your skin – so you will be comfortable wearing it every day. The best way to be sure you like a sunscreen is to try a small sample on your skin. Long gone are the days when people with oily skin had to suffer with that sticky sunscreen all over them. There are mattifying sunscreens for your face, mousses, sprays, gels, lotions… you name it. All you have to do is take your time and choose the one you like best.
The last step is, of course, to apply the product you bought. You’d think this step would be pretty much straight forward, but it isn’t. First, you should apply the product about 20 minutes before leaving the house and take it with you since you should re-apply every 90 minutes or when in contact with water. If the product you bough is water resistant, it means it will resist to sweat and splashes, but not to swimming. This brings us to my very last question for now: how do you know you’re applying enough sunscreen? Certainly you don’t want to look like those tourists that apply a thick white stripe of sunscreen down their noses and leave it there just like that, without rubbing it in (stop laughing, I’ve seen it and it was not a cartoon! It was real life). Well, that is simple: you should apply 7 tablespoons of product, all over your body. Right… like we’re going to carry around a tablespoon just for the sake of it and look crazy measuring cream. The solution is to open you hand, palm facing up and, with the other hand squeeze the tube so you make a thick line that goes from the tip of your middle finger, all the way to your wrist. There you go, a tablespoon of sunscreen! Who knew we carry our own measuring spoons at all times?
I hope that this post was helpful and that the fact that it’s a little long didn’t discourage you from seeking the best sunscreen you can afford.
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