Truths, Lies, and Sunscreens (cont.)

What is SPF?

The sun protection factor (SPF) is a number that is displayed on sunscreen containers. It typically ranges from 2 to 65 (with some even higher) and refers to the product's ability to block out the harmful rays of the sun. It is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. So, an SPF 30 means that an average person's skin will take 30 times longer before it is damaged than if the person was not wearing sunscreen.

What about sensitive skin? I break out with almost all kinds of creams. What can I use?

Sunblocks with pure zinc or titanium are the best choices for sensitive skin. (Remember that zinc oxide is actually safely used on a baby's skin for diaper rashes.) Wash off the sunscreen as soon as you get home in the evening.

How much sunscreen should I use?

Ideally, about 1 ounce (5-6 teaspoons) of sunscreen covers the entire body. Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before going outdoors and should be reapplied every two hours if you are sweating or getting wet.

At what age can I start applying sunscreen?

Experts agree that children under 6 months old should simply be kept out of direct sun. Zinc- or titanium-based sunscreens with SPF 30 or higher are great for older children.

What about that white, pasty look with zinc? Do I have to look all white to be protected?

No, not really. The newer preparations all offer microfine zinc or titanium, which blend in much better without leaving as much of a residue. Newer tinted sunblocks are also becoming available.

I used an SPF 65 lotion every two to three hours while on a tropical vacation. I still got very tan. What went wrong?

Not all SPF numbers mean the same thing. Many of the older sunscreen formulations did not block UVA rays. They blocked only UVB, which are the sun's burning rays. So, in essence, you are fooled into staying outside much longer, thinking that you never really burned. However, the UVA rays are still very damaging and can cause tanning, skin cancer, and premature wrinkling and aging.