While the world of skin care is definitely providing better and better sunscreen products, and although most of my readers already know the basics and even a lot of the more detailed sunscreen information, it never hurts to go over the salient points one more time. It will also help you handle the new myths that companies generate as they try to defend their products as being the best when they aren't.
UVA versus UVB
• There is no such thing as a safe tan, at least not from the sun or tanning beds. Even if you tan slowly without burning, the damage to the skin is still hazardous to the health of your skin.
• UVB rays are the sun's burning rays, which have an immediate harmful impact on the skin.
• UVA rays are the sun's silent killers. You don't feel them, but they are the primary cause of skin cancer and wrinkles. (UVA rays also penetrate through clear glass windows.)
• Skin damage from the sun begins within the first minutes your skin is exposed to sunlight.
• Even on a cloudy day, the sun's rays are ever-present and ever attacking the skin.
• Sitting in the shade or wearing a hat protects you from only a small portion of the sun's rays. Plus, other surrounding surfaces such as water, cement and grass reflect the rays from the ground to your skin, giving you a double whammy of damage.
• Altitude is a sun enhancer; for every 1,000-foot increase in altitude, the sun's potency increases by 4 per cent.
• According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a product's SPF (sun protection factor) number tells you how long you can stay in the sun while wearing it without getting burned. Here's how it works: If it normally takes you 20 minutes in the sun before you start turning pink, an SPF 15 will let you stay in the sun for five hours without burning. The formula is 20 (minutes) X 15 (SPF number) = 300 (minutes), or five hours. But that five hours applies only if you aren't swimming or perspiring. If you are active or if you get wet, you need to reapply the sunscreen after 60 to 90 minutes.
• SPF numbers are crucial, but they are a measurement that only pertains to sunburn (UVB rays). There are no numbers to tell you about protection from UVA radiation. For that protection you have to check the active ingredient list. Make sure that avobenzone, titanium dioxide or zinc oxide (which may be listed as Parsol 1789 or butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane) or, outside of the United States, Mexoryl SX, is one of the active ingredients. If one of these doesn't appear in the active ingredient list (it doesn't count if it is just part of the regular ingredients), you will not get adequate UVA protection.
• "Waterproof" sunscreens are not actually waterproof, and the FDA is ordering manufacturers to eliminate such a claim from sunscreen labels. Sunscreens can be water resistant, but they are never waterproof. Water-resistant sunscreens must be reapplied every 90 minutes if you are sweating or swimming.
• A product with an SPF 2 blocks only about 50 per cent of the UVB rays; an SPF 10 filters out about 85 per cent of the UVB rays; an SPF 15 stops about 95 per cent, and an SPF 30 through SPF 50 stops about 97 per cent. So even if the SPF number on the label of your sunscreens is an ultra-high SPF 50, it still has limitations. These percentages explain why you still might get some colour after prolonged exposure to the sun despite slathering sunscreen on your skin.
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Excerpted from The Beauty Bible: The Ultimate Guide to Smart Beauty (2nd Edition) by Paula Begoun, copyright 2002. Excerpted with permission by Raincoast Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher (Beginning Press).
Paula Begoun is the author of several best-selling books about the cosmetics industry, including Blue Eyeshadow Should be Illegal, Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me and Don't Go Shopping for Hair Care Products Without Me. She is also a syndicated columnist in the United States.