OK, time to improve our Homer J Simpson understanding of radiation safety. Sunlight contains UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. Forget about UVC; that’s absorbed by the ozone layer before it gets anywhere near your all-over pallor. UVB, which consists of shorter wavelengths, is the most abundant on a sunny day and that’s the one that really causes the lobstering and resultant skin long-term damage. UVA, a longer wavelength, is more penetrating. It can pass through glass (eg car windows), several layers of skin and the space-time continuum and is responsible for year-round skin aging as well as the activation of the free radicals that can damage skin and lead to cancer. Most products now contain both UVB and UVA protection. If they don’t, they’re crap.
Screen your cream
Sunscreen, sunblock… same thing, right? Wrong. Sunblock uses uncompromising ingredients such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as bouncers on the skin to reflect harmful rays. And like bouncers, sunblocks are often thick and non-absorbent. They are often sported by cricketers and skiers who care more for their skin than they do for aesthetics. Sunscreen on the other hand uses minerals to absorb UV light, thus mitigating sun damage. Because sunscreen allows penetration into the skin, it is generally less protective than sunblock but does allow a certain amount of tannage. Sunscreens are easier to wear and absorb into the skin without making you look like you’re wearing war paint.
SPF is short for Sun Protection Factor and refers to the amount of ultraviolet radiation allowed to reach the skin. SPF 15 allows 1/15 of the sun’s radiation to reach the skin. SPF 30 allows 1/30; SPF 50… OK, you get the picture. The bods at Lancaster sun-care reckon that there would be 78% fewer non-melanoma skin cancers if an SPF15 or more were used during the first 18 years of life. But it’s never too late to start wearing protection.
Look at the face value
Products for the face are usually more expensive than those for the body. This isn’t because the cosmetic companies are ripping us off. It’s because face products use a more advanced science and more expensive ingredients such as botanicals and minerals rather than harsh chemicals and detergents that can harm the skin over time. Skin on the face is more complicated, more sensitive and more exposed than thicker, tougher body skin – all of which adds up to a lot of wrinkles. OK, and it’s probably also because the companies are ripping us off a bit – but can you afford to scrimp?
The dos and don’ts of sun safety
Don’t bother with anything less than SPF 15. It’ll be about as much protection as a fishnet condom.
Do apply an SPF30+ broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors to give it a chance to bind to the skin before you sweat it off.
Don’t be too sparing. Most people apply too little sunscreen – which means 50-80% less protection than that specified on the bottle. Lay it on thick. Dermatologists recommend a teaspoon’s-worth of cream for every limb; more for the body.
Don’t roast non-stop between the hours of 10am and 4pm when UV light is at its strongest.
Do write something vulgar in factor 50 on your mate’s forehead when he has fallen asleep in the sun. It’s mildly tittersome.