Read these 14 Sunscreen Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Beach tips and hundreds of other topics.
Unfortunately, regardless of how good the sun feels and how great a tan can look, the sun's rays have been proven to have ageing effects, and to cause a range of skin cancers, including the dangerous melanoma. It is important to always wear sunscreen to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer and to slow the ageing process.
When used correctly, it is easy to go through sunscreen quickly, and sunscreens can be expensive. Therefore, it can be tempting to buy sunscreen in bulk to save money, or to "stock up" on sunblock that is on sale at the end of the season. Resist this temptation: as sunscreen ages, its effectiveness can weaken. Generally, sunscreens have shelf life of approximately two years, and you cannot be sure how long sun screen has been on the store's shelf. So unless you are planning to use sunscreen for a large group (such as a club), buy only enough to get you through a month or two, and play it safe at the start of a season and discard lotions leftover from the previous year. It might seem expensive, but the long-term benefits of effective protection will make it worth your money.
Some parts of your body are more sensitive to sunburn than others. Previously unexposed skin will burn far more quickly than areas of your body that get regular sun exposure since unexposed areas have not built up any protective melanin. Your nose, chin, forehead and shoulders will also usually burn first, since they receive greater exposure to the sun than other parts of the body. Your lips are a special case, since they contain no melanin-producing cells and because the skin is very thin. While you should use sunscreen over all exposed skin, you might want to use a stronger sunscreen or sunblock (such as zinc oxide) on these more sensitive areas.
It is important to apply sunscreen and sunblock liberally and regularly. Remember that all skin types are different, and that most sunscreens are only effective for about four hours. Choose a sunscreen with a high SPF, a brand like Ocean Potion, and limit your sun exposure during prime sun areas to get the most protection. You should reapply sunscreen often, usually after towel drying or a work-out is a good time. Use about one ounce (a shot glass full) per application. Apply your first layer of sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going into the sun, and reapply after swimming, sweating or toweling off. Even waterproof sun protection lotions can weaken or be rubbed off over the course of the day, so don't think you can just apply once.
Apply sunscreen on 20 to 30 minutes before heading outside to give the ingredients time to start working. Allowing your sunscreen to soak in thoroughly and dry on the surface with help it to last longer. Swimming before your sunscreen is dry will most likely wash it right off, rendering it ineffective. Young children are often too excited to wait to have sunscreen applied once you get to the beach, so it definitely a good idea to apply their first application at home so it can soak in and dry while you are traveling to the beach or pool.
While all sun exposure will cause some degree of damage to your skin, timing your sun exposure intelligently can help minimize that damage. The best time to enjoy the sun is in the early morning or late afternoon. The sun is strongest between 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, and sun exposure during these hours can quickly burn even protected skin. If you must be in the sun between 10 and 4, sit in the shade as often as possible and be sure to use protective sun screen and clothing. Remember the "shadow rule": if your shadow is smaller than you or is non-existent, take sun precautions by seeking shade or covering up. If your shadow is longer than you are, the sun's rays are not as damaging as they are during their peak hours, but you should still wear a sunscreen with and SPF of at least 15.
Melanin is a natural pigment occurring in the hair, skin and iris that is responsible for your skin tone. People with light skin have less melanin than do people with dark skin, and exposure to sunlight stimulates the production of additional melanin, resulting in what we know as a tan. The function of this melanin production is to absorb UV rays and protect skin cells from damage. Depending on an individual's natural coloring (based on the amount of melanin), some people will withstand the sun's rays longer before burning than others. A fair person needs greater protection than a person with darker pigmentation, and should use a sunscreen with a higher SPF, like an Ocean Potion sunscreen with a 50 SPF.
Everyone's skin reacts to the sun differently, and will burn at different rates. For basic sun protection, always use a sunscreen that has an SPF 15 or higher and that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for products that are "broad spectrum," since these will protect you from all of the different kinds of rays. Even using SPF 15 as your starting point, it can take some experimenting to find the SPF level that is right for you. Generally, people with fair skin who burn easily need a higher SPF, but don't let a medium or dark complexion fool you: all skin can burn, and it is important to always wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or greater to protect your skin from the sun's ageing and potential carcinogenic effects. You may also want to find a chemical free sunscreen depending on how sensitive your skin is. There are several brands out there including one called Mexitan which offers both sun screen and tanning oils.
Most sunscreens and sunblocks are only effective for about four hours, and even "waterproof" or "sweat proof" formulas can wear off after 80 minutes of activity. Therefore, you should reapply sunscreen every two or three hours--and more often if swimming or sweating a lot.
Sun protection is not just about your skin - you need to safeguard your entire body from the effects of the sun and heat. One important item that many beachgoers forget to pack is drinking water. Coolers are often well-stocked with colas, beers and iced tea, but caffeine and alcohol only speed dehydration when you should be focusing on staying hydrated. Pack a bottle or two of water, and if you like it cold, just plan ahead: fill water bottles and freeze them overnight, leaving the lid off and placing it in the freezer on an angle. That way, the plastic bottle will not crack, and there will be plenty of room for the water as the ice melts.
If you are allergic to sunlight, you might experience small blisters and a raised, red rash which is often intensely itchy: don't scratch this rash, as it will only spread and you might cause further damage to your skin. Consult a doctor if the itch is unbearable, as he or she might be able to prescribe you medication to control the itch. Allow the rash to clear up on its own, and limit the amount of direct sunlight you expose yourself to next time. The best advice for someone with an allergy to sunlight is to avoid it. Of course, this isn't always possible, so common sense and good sun safe habits will prevent most problems. Be sure to wear sunscreen or sunblock for added protection, though if your skin is sensitive, you should patch test any new product you plan to use.
Delicate areas, such as the lips, ears and feet--and even scars and tattooed areas, may burn faster and require a higher SPF or more frequent reapplication of sunscreen and sunblock than other parts of your body. Scars, especially new ones, should be protected with zinc oxide, which creates a physical barrier between your skin and the sun's harmful rays. Zinc oxide creams used to be opaque, but a clear version is now available, and is great for protecting lips, noses, ears and tattooed skin. Also try lip balms that contain Parsol 1789 or some other type of sun-screening ingredients. These can be used on your lips, of course, but are also effective around the eyes and on your ears, since it will stay on and will not get in your eyes or cause stinging.
People usually use too much of a product - shampoo, hair gels and perfumes are classic examples. However, sunscreen and sunblock are the exception to the rule - people use much too little! You need more than you think you do. An average-sized person should use at least one ounce of sunscreen or sunblock - enough to fill a shot glass - on your body, and another teaspoon or two on your face.
Sunscreen does not necessarily come in a bottle. A good quality, tightly-woven t-shirt is one of the best items you can take to the beach for basic sun protection. If you want to pack lightly, wear the t-shirt instead of packing it. If you prefer, keep one for swimming in the water, and take along a dry one for wearing to and from the beach.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|