Everyone knows that daily sunscreen use is a great way to minimize skin-cancer risk and fight the signs of aging. But with so many choices out there, what is the “right” sunscreen? With some knowledge about how the sun can damage your skin and how sunscreen protects it, you’ll have an easier time finding the best products for you.
Two types of harmful rays reach your skin: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB).
UVA rays cause “age” spots and wrinkles, as well as skin-cancer risk. With a wavelength of 320-400 nanometers (nm), they are less intense than UVB rays but penetrate more deeply into the skin.
UVB rays cause that painful sunburn and, with repeated exposure, can lead to the development of skin cancer. They have a wavelength of 290-320 nm.
An easy way to remember the difference between UVA and UVB rays is that “A” is for “aging” and “B” is for “burning.” In order to protect your skin from both, it is important to use a sunscreen that is “broad spectrum,” coming as close as possible to covering the full UVA/UVB spectrum of 290-400 nm.
Get Physical with Your
Sunscreens come in two types: chemical and physical.
Chemical sunscreens, such as oxybenzone (290-350 nm) and avobenzone (300-380 nm), absorb UV rays, then chemically break them down before they can cause damage.
Physical sunscreens last longer than chemical sunscreens. They are literally physical blocks, like a little wall on your skin, bouncing back the sun’s rays. Common physical sunblocks are titanium dioxide (290-370 nm) and zinc oxide (290-390 nm).
Not only does zinc oxide offer the broadest range of protection from UVA and UVB rays, but it is available in an improved, “micronized” form. Now products with zinc can be lightweight and invisible, unlike the thick, white, sticky ones of the past.
Aim High with Your SPF
Once you have found a sunscreen that offers the broadest spectrum of protection, you need to decide on level of sun protection factor (SPF). An SPF value compares the amount of time it would take to burn your skin without sunblock versus with sunblock.
An SPF 30 sunscreen blocks 97% of UVB rays, while — an SPF 50 blocks 98%! The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher daily.
What to do about that 2-5% of UVB light that gets through? Add an antioxidant to your skin, such as green tea polyphenols, resveratrol, or vitamin C. It’s your second line of defense to neutralize the harmful free radicals that are unleashed by sunlight.
Your Final Defense Strategy
Overall, your best bet against UV damage is to use a sunscreen with micronized zinc oxide and SPF of 30-50, combined with an antioxidant.
At California Skin Institute, we offer an outstanding line of sunscreens along with a comprehensive skin care program, including skin cancer screening, Mohs surgery for the advanced treatment of skin cancer and skin rejuvenation services.
Learn more about how we can help you protect your skin and keep Father Time at bay. Call us at (760) 633-1000 or visit our office at 700 Garden View Court, Suite 100, in Encinitas.