Sunscreen and SPF

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After a long winter, you may be on your way to build up your tan at the beach. To make sure you don’t get skin cancer, you rub in your favorite SPF 15 sunscreen all over your skin at 8 am. Think you are safe? You are not.

What Does Sun Do to your Skin

Your skin is damaged by any tan from sunlight. A healthy tan does not exist. Your skin turns brown because of a chemical called melanin. Melanocytes are special cells in your skin that make and store melanin. Your skin will try to protect itself by releasing the melanin from melanocytes into your skin when it is being damaged by the sun.

Further damage from the sunlight is not stopped by the melanin, but it is reduced. Although some people’s skin naturally has more melanin (Hispanics, Asians, Africans, etc.), sun damage and skin cancer still happen to them, but it takes more time.

botox training for beauty therapistsNow you might be thinking that if you tan but don’t burn you are okay. That is incorrect. The DNA in your skin that causes the skin cancer has already been damaged by the time you have a tan.

When you get a sunburn, you damage not only your skin but your DNA too. This harm has to be fixed. To help with the repair, your body sends extra blood to the skin. That’s why too much sun makes you turn red or pink.

The rating provided by the SPF roughly estimates the extra length of time you have before you burn. The sun-protection factor system measures the length of time a sunscreen will protect your skin from reddening / burning from UVB rays, compared to how long your skin would take to redden/ burn without sunscreen protection.

Let’s say, it takes about 20 minutes without sunscreen for your skin to become reddish and start to burn, theoretically by using a sunscreen with an SPF-15 it should prevent the reddening/ burning of the skin 15 times longer — about 5 hours.

Sunscreens are divided into 2 categories – by what wavelengths they block.  Most sunscreens protect from UVB (Ultraviolet B) rays, which are shorter waves that cause skin damage, sunburns and can cause skin cancer.   A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects the skin from UVA (Ultraviolet A) and UVB rays.  UVA rays are longer waves that cause lasting skin damage, skin aging and also skin cancer.

Unintended Consequences

Sunscreens present some other concerns however. Users of high-SPF sunscreens stay in the sun longer with a single application and get burned when the product’s chemicals break down, wash off or rub off on clothes and towels.

Users of low-SPF products head indoors much sooner than these people, who are armed with a false sense of security and stay out in the sun too long. As a result, high-SPF users get the same number of sunburns as unprotected sunbathers and absorb more damaging UVA radiation, which many high-SPF products do not effectively block. You must reapply frequently to help prevent this.

In the real world, people get far less protection than the labels advertise. Numerous studies show that people apply just 20-to-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. This changes the actual value of the SPF and drastically reduces the amount of protection for their skin.


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