5 Key Things to Know About Sun Protection

Carolyn Hsu
5 Key Things to Know About Sun Protection
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If there’s one thing universally agreed upon by beauty experts everywhere, it’s this: The best thing you can do for your skin is to wear sun protection. In fact, we’d be pretty surprised if you didn’t already know that you should be applying it on a daily basis all year round – but for something that is supposedly “beauty common sense,” there is a surprising amount of misinformation surrounding the topic. To clear things up, we consulted with Birmingham, Alabama based dermatologist, Julie Harper, to discuss all things related to sun protection.

Read on to get the facts on SPF, product labels, UV rays, Vitamin D, and what to do if you just want a little color this season.

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Find out the five key things you need to know about sun protection, before you get too far into the summer season.

Photo: Istock Photo/Istock Photo

1. You can go natural, but know which ingredients to look for. 

Sunscreens come in two different formulations, chemical and physical. As the name suggests, chemical sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb UV rays and deactivate them upon contact. While chemical sunscreens are effective and completely safe, some users with sensitive skin may still find certain ingredients irritating. In that case, Dr. Harper recommends looking for a physical sunscreen that contains natural minerals such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which sit on top of skin and physically prevent rays from penetrating. She does, however, caution against using non-FDA approved "alternative" products or supplements, because they just haven't been proven to get the job done. (Yes to Cucumbers Natural Sunscreen SPF 30, $11.95, Soap.com)

2. SPF is only half the story.

Most of us have been conditioned to read the SPF number like it's the only important thing on the label. Unfortunately, if you're just looking at that, you might think that you're fully protecting yourself, but you're actually not. The sun emits two types of harmful ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, and the SPF number refers only to how much UVB protection you're getting. As Dr. Harper explained, UVB rays are absorbed in the superficial top layers of skin and causes the actual burn. The higher SPF you wear, the longer it protects your skin from burning. UVA, on the other hand, penetrates deep into the skin where the damage can't be immediately seen (think of it as UVB's silent, but deadly, partner in crime). So instead of just paying attention to the SPF number, make sure that the product you use (especially if you're relying your lotion or makeup to provide sun protection) is marked "broad spectrum" that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. (Restorsea Rejuvenating Day Lotion with SPF 30, $150, restorsea.com)

3. The magic number is between 15 and 50.

Recently the FDA released a set of rules around sunscreen labels that declare what manufactures can and cannot claim about their products. Among the rules, the FDA has stated that only sunscreens with SPF 15 and above can claim to reduce the risk of premature aging and skin cancer. Anything with an SPF of lower than that can no longer claim to be effective protection. On the flip side, the FDA has also regulated that the highest SPF one product can claim is 50, as not to lead consumers astray thinking they are getting uber, bullet-proof protection. For daily use, Dr. Harper recommends applying a broad protection sunscreen with minimum of SPF 30. (Shiseido Urban Environment Tinted UV Protector Broad Spectrum SPF 43, $30, Sephora.com)

4. Sunscreen is not waterproof or sweatproof.

Got sunscreen that claims to be waterproof? It's time to throw it out. According to Dr. Harper, it's technically impossible for sunscreens to be completely waterproof -- instead, the best they can claim to do is to be water resistant for up to a certain period of time (40 minutes or 80 minutes). What this means is that the product will need to be reapplied after that time frame, or it'll be rendered ineffective. Be sure to keep your sunscreen on hand when you're having an active day outdoors, and reapply often because the most effective sun protection is one that hasn't rubbed off. (Cerave Sunscreen Broad Spectrum SPF 50, $11.24, CVS.com)

5. You don't need the sun to get your daily dose of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is important to maintain strong bones and prevent certain types of diseases, but don't use that as an excuse to lay out in the sun for even a few minutes. "Vitamin D can be obtained through a well balanced diet or supplements," advises Dr. Harper. "There's no need to get your dose from a known carcinogen like the sun." If you're hoping just to get a bit of color this summer, use a self tanner instead. Some, like this one, even contain an added dose of Vitamin D. (Dr. Dennis Grossman Alpha Beta Glow Pad with Active Vitamin D, $18, Sephora.com)

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