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The Science of Sunscreen: Why SPF Matters for Healthy Skin

Remember that popular song that said, "If I could give you advice in the future, wear sunscreen." I guess he was obviously on to something. If the sun's intensity nowadays is anything to go by, we could be walking crisps before we know it. And to be honest, one of the best decisions you can make for your skin health is to include sunscreen in your daily routine.

And by now, if you don't know what sunscreen is, just like the name implies sunscreen is a topical product designed to protect the skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. It works by either absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the UV rays before they can penetrate the skin.

Image courtesy of Oriflame 

Here's how sunscreen typically works

As UV Filters

Sunscreen contains active ingredients known as UV filters, which can be either chemical or physical (mineral) filters. Chemical filters absorb UV radiation and convert it into heat, while physical filters create a barrier on the skin's surface that reflects or scatters UV rays.

SPF (Sun Protection Factor)

Sunscreens are labeled with an SPF, which indicates the level of protection against UVB rays, the type of UV radiation that causes sunburn. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection. SPF measures how long it would take for UVB radiation to cause sunburn on protected skin compared to unprotected skin. For example, if you use an SPF 30 sunscreen, it should theoretically take 30 times longer to burn than if you were not wearing sunscreen.

Broad-Spectrum Protection

It's important to always look out for a sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, meaning it protects against both UVB and UVA rays. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and contribute to premature aging and skin cancer.

But why is it so important?

Sunscreen is crucial for protecting our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. So the enemy here is what we call the UV, which is Ultraviolet radiation. And since we do not want to shrivel up like a dried leaf before our time, here are several reasons why sunscreen is essential in our daily lives.

Sunscreen SPF50 

Prevents Sunburn

Sunburn occurs when the skin is overexposed to UV radiation frequently, specifically UVB rays. Sunscreen with a sufficient sun protection factor (SPF) helps to block UVB rays, reducing the risk of sunburn and the associated pain, redness, and peeling.

Reduces Risk of Skin Cancer

Prolonged exposure to UV radiation increases the risk of developing skin cancer, including melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. Sunscreen helps to protect against UV radiation, thus lowering the risk of developing these potentially life-threatening conditions.

Prevents Premature Aging

UV radiation accelerates the aging process of the skin, leading to wrinkles, fine lines, age spots, and sagging skin. By wearing sunscreen daily, you can help prevent premature aging and maintain a more youthful appearance.

Protects Against Sun Damage

UV radiation can cause damage to the skin cells, leading to DNA mutations, collagen breakdown, and inflammation. Sunscreen forms a barrier on the skin, shielding it from UV radiation and preventing sun damage.

Maintains Even Skin Tone

Prolonged sun exposure can lead to uneven pigmentation and the development of sunspots or hyperpigmentation. Sunscreen helps to prevent the formation of these dark patches, maintaining a more even skin tone.

Prevents Sun Allergies and Sensitivities

Some individuals may experience allergic reactions or sensitivities to sunlight, resulting in conditions such as polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) or solar urticaria. Sunscreen can help to mitigate these reactions by providing a barrier against UV radiation.

Promotes Overall Skin Health

By protecting the skin from sun damage, sunscreen contributes to overall skin health and helps to preserve its integrity and function.

It's important to choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays and to apply it generously and regularly, especially when spending time outdoors. Additionally, sunscreen should be used in conjunction with other sun protection measures, such as seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and avoiding sun exposure during peak hours (usually between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.).
Photo by Oriflame

How to use sunscreen effectively

Apply Generously

Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin generously. Most adults need about one ounce of sunscreen (equivalent to a shot glass) to cover their entire body adequately.

Apply Early

Apply sunscreen at least 15-30 minutes before going outdoors to allow it to absorb into the skin and provide effective protection.

Reapply Regularly

Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or more frequently if you are swimming or sweating heavily. Even water-resistant sunscreens can lose their effectiveness over time, so it's essential to reapply regularly.

Cover All Exposed Skin

Remember to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas of skin, including the face, neck, ears, hands, and any other areas not covered by clothing.

Use Every Day

Sunscreen should be part of your daily skincare routine, even on cloudy or overcast days, as UV rays can penetrate clouds and cause skin damage.

Combine with Other Sun Protection Measures

Sunscreen should be used in conjunction with other sun protection measures, such as seeking shade, wearing protective clothing (including hats and sunglasses), and avoiding sun exposure during peak hours.

Check Expiration Date

Sunscreen can lose its effectiveness over time, so be sure to check the expiration date and replace sunscreen that is past its expiration date.

By using sunscreen correctly and consistently, you can help protect your skin from sunburn, premature aging, and skin cancer.

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