While skin damage is certainly not something reserved only for those with backyard swimming pools, those who frequent the pool can certainly be at increased risk for Melanoma as well as other types of skin cancer and types of sun damage, due to increased time out in the sun combined with the reflective properties of water. Thankfully, though, that doesn’t mean you can’t combat the potential for damage.
In Part 1 we examined misinformation about sunscreens as well as the importance of using multiple forms of sun protection and important ingredients in an effective sunscreen. Now we’ll take some time to more thoroughly evaluate what sunscreen does and how it helps.
What SPF Does & Doesn’t Mean
The SPF (or Sun Protection Factor) of sunscreen is important, but possibly not as important as some people think it is.
Here’s an overview of SPF from the Skin Cancer Foundation: “The SPF number tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product exactly as directed versus the amount of time without any sunscreen.”
That translates into the fact that a sunscreen with SPF 30 will not completely prevent you from getting a sunburn; however, it will allow you to take 30 times longer to burn than you normally would. It does not block all of the sun’s rays, though: broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 would allow about 3% of UVB rays to hit your skin. So ideally, with SPF 30 it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen, and about 3 percent of UVB rays would be allowed to hit your skin.
While it might seem like sunscreen with higher SPF offers more protection, remember that those numbers are according to lab results; out in real life, people who use sunscreen with higher SPF sometimes acquire a false sense of security. As a result, they may fail to use other forms of protection (like those we recommended in Part 1) and skip re-application. In the end, the combined effect ends up being greater amounts of UV damage.
Why Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen Is Significant
Ultraviolet (or UV) light has shorter wavelengths than visible light and is invisible to the human eye. The UV spectrum includes two basic types of rays that can potentially cause damage to the DNA in your skin’s cells. UVB rays are the ones we think of most, since these can cause sunburn and lead to skin cancer. SPF relates directly to the percentage of UVB rays blocked. By contrast, the lesser-understood UVA rays cause skin damage that results in a more favorable result: tanning. While shorter wavelengths of UVA rays do contribute to sunburn, these rays can also cause premature aging of skin.
How To Properly Apply Sunscreen
Regardless of what SPF sunscreen you use, it’s important to apply about 2 tablespoons to your skin at least a half hour before going outdoors for typical outdoor activities — and reapply every two hours. After sweating or swimming, be sure to apply more as well.
Continue reading with Part 3.
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