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From The Blog

Myths & Truths About Sunscreen

Myth: Only wear sunscreen when it’s sunny


Truth: You can get sun damage even when cloudy

First, it is essential to always wear sunscreen, even in the fall and winter! 

Did you know that 80% of your skin’s aging process results from harmful UVA – Ultraviolet A – & UVB – Ultraviolet B- rays emitted from the sun?

Below is a photo of two identical twins. The twin on the left has protected herself from sun exposure over time, while her sister on the right side has let herself tan and expose herself to the sun excessively over the years.

Overall, sun exposure damages and ages your skin extensively, so don’t skip out on the SPF!

Identical Twins with and with out using Suncreen

What Do All The Acronyms Mean?

SPF stands for sun protection factor and refers to the measure of UVB radiation it takes to cause a sunburn. 

(SPF only refers to UVB rays, it does not relate to UVA rays, which has another rating system not used in North America, but you may come across it if purchasing sunscreen in Europe.)

The lower the SPF, the more likely you are to burn. Many confuse SPF with the time spent in the sun rather than solar energy. How often you need to reapply will depend on what you are physically doing and how intense the sun is at that particular time of the day or year.

For sunscreen to work, it needs to bond to the skin, and throughout the day, your body is actively shedding dead skin cells and sweating; therefore, as time goes on, the sunscreen you apply can start to disappear. 

In terms of the time of day; you will need to reapply more often at the hottest part of the day, usually around 1 pm than you would in the morning and more often in the summer than in the winter when the sun is much less intense (unless you are high up on a mountain skiing!) 

The general rule of thumb is to reapply at least every two hours. By re-applying every 2 hours (and after our skin dries off when we come out of the water), we can better ensure a layer of sunscreen protects our skin.

Your skin type also depends on the SPF level you need to apply. For example, those with fair skin need much higher than those with a darker skin tone as darker complexions have a built-in SPF of around 13.4 and can still protect themselves with an SPF of 30. A great way to think about SPF is like putting a mesh over your skin.

The lower the number on the SPF, the larger the holes in the mesh. The higher the number, the finer the mesh. However, some research shows that once you hit about SPF 50-60, anything higher doesn’t really make a difference, and you will still need to reapply every two hours since you are still shedding skin and sweating. 

SPF is not the only acronym you need to consider when shopping for sunscreen. As we mentioned, SPF only refers to UVB rays; you also need to think about UVA rays. But what’s the difference? 

Although exposure to both is harmful and contributes to the risk of skin cancer, the two types of UV light affect the skin differently. The easy way to remember the difference between the two is:

  • UV-A: “A” for Aging
  • UV-B: “B” for Burn

Clouds and windows can block UVB rays, whereas UVA rays can pass through clouds and windows, so it’s essential to protect yourself from UVA rays throughout the year (not just when it is sunny). When choosing a sunscreen, it is best to look for one that states it offers broad UVA-UVB spectrum protection.

sunscreen myths truths

What’s Really In My Sunscreen?

In recent years there has been scrutiny over what goes into sunscreen.

There have been concerns over chemicals like oxybenzone (which we will dive into a little deeper shortly) for our health and the environment, but first, we need to understand that there are two types of sunscreen filters; chemical and mineral/physical. 

Chemical sunscreens use active ingredients to offer sun protection, such as; 

  • oxybenzone, 
  • avobenzone, 
  • homosalate, 
  • octinoxate, 
  • octocrylene, 
  • and octisalate. 

When these sunscreens bond to the skin, chemical filters work by absorbing the sun’s UV rays, then releasing the energy they’ve absorbed into heat.

Sunscreens with chemical filters can be made into lightweight oils and moisturizers, which the skin can absorb much more quickly due to the sunscreen’s ingredients, and they also tend to be easier to apply.

To allow these sunscreens to bond correctly to the skin, they should be applied 15-20 minutes before sun exposure, ideally before heading out into the sun for maximum protection. 

As we mentioned, oxybenzone has been in the news recently around concerns that it can seep into the water when people are wearing it and swimming. While this is likely the case with any sunscreen ingredient, the concerns specific to oxybenzone are that it may damage the living coral in coral reefs and may cause other environmental issues. In addition, there are concerns it may increase the risk to our health, such as endometriosis in women; however, the ingredient has not been deemed unsafe by Health Canada, but it may be something you want to consider.  

Unlike chemical filters, the skin will not absorb mineral filters (sometimes also called “physical filters”) used in sunscreens. Instead, mineral filters create a physical barrier between your skin and the sun’s UV rays, allowing them to disperse or reflect the sun’s energy when it hits your skin. The physical blockers are made from two main ingredients; titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which block UV wavelengths. Titanium dioxide is very effective at blocking UVB rays and shorter-length UVA rays, while zinc oxide offers protection from longer-length UVA rays. 

Those with sensitive skin types may favour mineral sunscreens as the ingredients in the chemical sunscreens may cause allergic reactions and skin irritations. These irritations can sometimes occur for non-sensitive skin individuals when mixing sunscreen with other skin-applied products, like insect repellant. In contrast, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are usually much more tolerable. However, mineral sunscreens are generally thicker, especially with a high SPF, leaving a white residue on the skin. This residue can make them challenging to apply in areas of the body with significant or thick hair. Some newer sunscreens have started breaking the zinc oxide into nanoparticles, which has made it easier to apply and less likely to leave a white residue on the skin.

Nowadays, it is common to find that most sunscreens will contain a mix of chemical and mineral filters to provide broad-spectrum UVA/UVB coverage. 

But What About Your Face?

Can you wear regular sunscreen on your face, or do you need a specific one? 

The same principles for your body go for your face. We recommend finding a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage with UVB and UVA and an SPF of 30 or higher, and again don’t be fooled by high SPF – remember to reapply every two hours in the sun. For your face, you may want to look for ingredients that focus on fine lines and acne and shop for your particular skin type as it is a lot more sensitive and can be prone to breakouts. 

People often comment that sunscreens can feel oily and heavy on the skin, and something they may tolerate on the skin covering most of their body is not something they want to apply to their face. However, many available options are designed specifically for the face, with a texture similar to facial creams. In addition, some facial skincare and make-up products may incorporate sunscreen filters into the product, giving you some protection. But remember, you still need to reapply throughout the day if you spend significant time under the sun. 

And finally, you should always use sunscreen in addition to protective hats and clothing that helps cover more of your skin and make sure to spend time in the shade.

If you’d like to discuss your skin type in more detail, concerns about your skin, or to learn more about what medical-grade sunscreens are available, please feel free to reach out and book a consultation with us today.