Sun Safety, Sunscreen Q&A
By Arlington Parks and Recreation
Posted on July 01, 2020, July 01, 2020

Mom putting sunscreen on daughter

Too much sun is no fun and can hurt your eyes and skin! Try to limit sun exposure to 3 hours. Make sure you drink plenty of water and layer in protection with sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and a shirt.

Everyone enjoys spending time outside on a warm, sunny day, but spending too much time in the sun without taking steps to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays is a case of too much of a good thing.

 The consequences of overexposure are severe. Too much unprotected exposure to the sun causes sunburn and other skin damage, such as:

  • Dark patches
  • Loss of skin elasticity (sagging skin) 
  • Wrinkles
  • Premature aging of skin (skin that looks older than it should)
  • Skin cancer
  • Eye damage

Q&A

What does SPF mean and what number should I choose?

  • SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF value indicates the level of sunburn protection provided by the sunscreen product. Higher SPF values (up to 50) provide greater sunburn protection. To get the most out of your sunscreen, choose one with an SPF of at least 30. If your skin is fair, you may want a higher SPF.

    Choose a sunscreen or sunblock labeled “broad-spectrum.” This means it will provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

    Apply the recommended amount of sunscreen or sunblock to all exposed skin at least 15 minutes before you go outside, even if it is cloudy out. (It is possible to burn on a cloudy day.) Be sure to remember commonly missed areas, such as the lips, ears and the tops of the feet. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours and after swimming or sweating.

My skin is irritated by most sunscreens are there other options?

  • Sunscreen active ingredients can be divided into two categories: chemical and mineral. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s UV rays. Mineral (barrier) sunscreens reflect UV rays away from your body. Both types of sunscreen are effective at protecting skin from sun damage.

    Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are the two mineral sunscreen ingredients you will find in stores in the U.S. If mineral sunscreens work best for your skin, look for a sunscreen with either zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or both listed as the active ingredients. Be sure to select a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that is also labeled “broad spectrum.”

Is sunscreen harmful to the environment or toxic?

  • According to the CDC, some research suggests that oxybenzone, an active ingredient in many sunscreens, may possibly harm coral reefs. The effects of mineral sunscreen ingredients like zinc oxide are still being studied. However, there are many other sun protection options beyond sunscreen that can be used when spending time in and around the water. Long sleeved swim shirts, wide brimmed hats, and shade can help to protect skin from sun damage. And outdoor activities can be scheduled so as to avoid midday, when the sun is most intense, which will also help to reduce sun exposure.

I have heard that there are ingredients in certain sunscreens that are better to avoid. Is that true?

Does sunscreen need to be worn every day even when the sun’s rays are not very strong?

  • According to the World Health Organization, sun protection is needed when the UV Index is 3 or higher. The UV Index is often provided in local weather forecasts and is also available on the United States Environmental Protection Agency website at https://www.epa.gov/sunsafety/uv-index-1. Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s UV rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
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