Sunscreen, or sunblock, is a lotion, gel, or spray that is applied to exposed skin to protect it from damaging sunlight. These products work by absorbing or reflecting the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation to protect against sunburn. Most experts recommend use of sunscreen when in the sun. Ideally, we should spend less time exposing ourselves to the sun and protect our exposed areas with clothing, hats, and shade covers, but this is not always feasible. It is important to follow the recommendations on the bottle and reapply sunscreen accordingly for the best possible protection.
Many consumers are looking for natural alternatives to chemical sunscreens. Just as prescription drugs can be delivered through our skin with a patch – other body care products are also absorbed by the skin. When using products made with synthetic ingredients, these chemicals may be absorbed into the body. Therefore, organic and all natural skin care products are highly recommended and preferred by many consumers.
Levels of sunscreen effectiveness are measured by the sun protection factor, or SPF. The SPF level refers to the amount of ultraviolet radiation that can reach the skin before sunburn starts. As the SPF number increases, the more protection the sunblock will offer against UV rays. The SPF number does not reflect the amount of time a person can stay in the sun’s exposure.
Sunscreen protection is related to several factors including the amount of product applied to the skin, the frequency of reapplication, the type of outdoor activities involved in, and the skin type of the user. It is important to follow the application recommendations on the product package. Many people apply only a small portion of the recommended amount, and thus will not achieve the intended SPF level. To remain effective, most sunscreens normally need to be reapplied every two hours. When involved in water activities or when sweating, it is recommended to reapply more frequently. People with fair skin usually use a sunscreen with higher SPF ratings for increased protection.
The SPF rating is measured for UVB rays, which is the radiation that causes sunburn. It does not measure the UVA radiation, which also causes skin damage but does not noticeably burn the skin. Some sunscreens include several different active ingredients and will provide full protection from both UVB and UVA radiation. The best broad spectrum protection is provided by products that include ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These minerals stay on the skin’s surface and work by reflecting the sun’s radiation. Other synthetic chemical ingredients are also effective for UVA rays, and include avobenzone and ecamsule.
Selecting a natural sunscreen is the first step in safe, natural sun protection. There are many types of sunblock, and it is important to find one that best fits your individual needs. When selecting a sunscreen, some considerations are effectiveness, broad spectrum UVB and UVA protection, adequate SPF levels, natural and non-toxic ingredients, and no animal testing. Choose a sunscreen that fits your needs and be sure to follow the recommendations for application. Using a natural sunscreen is one way to keep skin healthy and to help prevent sun-related aging.