The warm weather is great for rewarding outdoor activities such as swimming, hiking, or just relaxing in a chair. Before you run outside, however, keep in mind that spending time in the sun comes with risks.
Although sunscreen is a trusted form of protection from the sun's rays, not every bottle or tube is created equally! There are many factors to evaluate when selecting the best sun protection for your needs.
How the Sun Can Affect Your Body
The sun releases energy in the form of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, as well as the visible white light that we see. This energy, in the form of UVA and UVB rays, can severely damage the skin, causing:
- Skin lesions
- Discoloration and uneven pigmentation (sun spots, freckles)
- Loss of skin elasticity (due to damaged proteins in the skin tissue)
UV radiation promotes the growth of abnormal skin cells, which can multiply rapidly to form a tumor. Skin cancer is a serious, potentially fatal health problem. It is also the most widespread cancer in the United States, with the number of cases increasing every year.
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Is Your Sunscreen Effective?
Sunscreen, though useful, is not fail-proof in protecting you from ultraviolet radiation. A layer of sunscreen may not be effective in keeping you covered; the Environmental Working Group considers only 6 percent of all sunscreens safe.
Consider these factors:
- Amount: A thin layer of sunscreen may not be enough.
- SPF: A sunscreen with a higher SPF is not necessarily better. It may only provide a negligible amount of additional coverage but contain many more chemicals.
- Incomplete coverage: Many sunscreens offer coverage for either UVA or UVB rays, but not both. These leave you vulnerable to UV radiation, increasing the risk of skin damage. Additionally, many daily moisturizers (1 in 5) do not provide any UVA protection, and others do not provide enough.
- Breakdown: Some sunscreens are not able to last a whole day of fun in the sun. Their ingredients break down chemically with sun exposure, allowing UV rays to reach your skin.
- Toxicity: Do you know what's in your sunscreen? There may be various toxic ingredients that harm you more than they protect you.
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How to Maximize Your Protection
With a little effort, however, you can choose a safe, effective sunscreen:
- Read the label: Make sure your sunscreen covers both UVA and UVB rays. Choose an SPF that best matches your skin tone (lighter skin requires higher SPF). And remember to reapply after sweating, toweling, or contact with water.
- Watch for certain ingredients: Stay away from bottles containing oxybenzone and benzophenone-3. These chemicals can cause allergies and hormone disruptions in your body – don't risk absorbing them into your skin. Instead, look for safer alternatives such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which are not as easily absorbed.
- Stay Smart: Don't be fooled by advertisements! Remember that sunscreen companies want you to buy their product, and will make false claims to attract you. The FDA can't regulate all marketing claims, so evaluate your choice carefully!
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