Updated: 2/6/2020 With summer just around the corner, the days are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter. This means more hours a day that the sun is in…

Helpful Hints for Using Sunscreen

Updated: 2/6/2020

With summer just around the corner, the days are getting longer and the nights are getting shorter. This means more hours a day that the sun is in contact with your skin. With this prolonged UV exposure, it’s important to keep your skin protected. Keep reading for some helpful tips on using sunscreen to effectively guard your skin during the summer months.

Choosing Your Sunscreen

Do you ever wonder how effective your sunscreen really is? Are certain types better than others? Does SPF actually mean anything? Keep reading for some tips on choosing sunscreen.

What kind is the best?

There are two main types of sunscreen: physical blockers and chemical blockers. Each one has its pros and cons. Physical blockers are made from titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which are materials that sit on the surface of the skin and are not quickly absorbed. Because of this, physical blockers reflect UV rays. This type of sunscreen lasts longer than chemical blockers, but because it’s not absorbed can be easily washed or sweated off.

Chemical blockers, on the other hand, are made up of benzophenones. These chemicals help to absorb UV radiation. Because this type of sunscreen does soak into the skin, it’s much more water resistant than physical blockers. However, it wears off much faster, and therefore needs to be reapplied more frequently.

Both chemical and physical blockers are effective in protecting your skin from UV rays, but which one you use should depend on the situation. If you’re going to be in water or sweating a lot, a chemical blocker would probably be the best choice. Any other sun exposure would most likely be fine with a physical blocker.

What does SPF even mean?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. A common misconception about SPF is that the higher the number, the less you have to reapply. In actuality, the SPF number is only a guide to how long you can go without reapplying. A good rule of thumb is to multiply the number of minutes it takes you to burn without sunscreen times the SPF number to find your maximum sun exposure time with sunscreen. For example, if it normally takes you 15 minutes to burn, and you use a sunscreen of 20 SPF, then you can go a maximum of 300 minutes in the sun before reapplying. This equation isn’t always accurate, however, because most people use less sunscreen than the amount used in testing; therefore, reapplication needs to be even more frequent.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen that is of an SPF 30 or higher, and protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Using Sunscreen

In order for sunscreen to be effective, it’s important to apply it properly. Here are some tips for using sunscreen:

  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going outside so that it has time to fully absorb into your skin.
  • One ounce is usually enough to cover all surfaces of your body. Typically one ounce is about 2 tablespoons.
  • Reapply every two hours or after swimming or heavily sweating.
  • Don’t forget your lips! Use a lip balm with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect your lips from getting burned, too.

Soothing a Burn

If you do get burned, there are some easy home remedies you can try to help ease the pain.

  • Aloe vera or a cool compress to cool off the burn and reduce stinging.
  • Drink water and use lotion to restore moisture back into your skin.
  • Blend washed potatoes in a food processor or blender and apply the mixture to the burned area. Once it dries, wash it off. The potatoes help to relieve some of the pain accompanied by the burn.
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin may also help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

While one sunburn may only cause you a slight inconvenience, repeated exposure to the sun’s UV rays without protection could possibly lead to skin cancer. Because of this, it’s important to use sunscreen anytime you will be in contact with the sun and to reapply often. Be sure to use enough to generously cover all exposed areas, and your skin will have a much better chance at surviving the summer.

  1. My daily face lotion has an SPF in it. I work inside all day and don’t really get out in the sun much, but I’ve heard that even fluorescent lights have UV rays. So, should I reapply midday?

    • Hi Kristina, even though your chance of getting harmed by the UV rays from fluorescent lights or from sunlight through windows is very low, it is still best to play it safe and reapply. You shouldn’t need to reapply every two hours, but once midday should be good. Thanks for reading!

    • Hi Emilienne, the percentage of ingredients shouldn’t have much effect on the effectiveness of the sunscreen. The ingredients tell you what kind of sunscreen it is (chemcial vs. physical blocker) and the SPF is indicative of the strength of the sunscreen. Really, the effectiveness of a sunscreen depends on the person who applies it — if you use enough and reapply, you should be fine. Thanks for reading!

  2. Very helpful information! How do you tell the difference between physical blockers and chemical blockers when buying sunscreen?

    • You can tell based on the ingredients in the sunscreen — one with zinc and titanium oxide is a physical blocker, and one with benzones is a chemical blocker. Thanks for stopping by!

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