I Love Sunscreen and Why You Should Too!

So this weekend I went on a hike and... didn't wear sunscreen.

I made some failed assumptions (that it would be shady and tree covered, that the hike would be quick,..) which resulted in me acquiring a beautiful pair of lobster arms and a very red neck. Not cool.

However, as a Ginger I've come to love sunscreen. It is my friend. It allows me to go outside without getting sunburned and without having to carry a parasol or being covered head-to-toe to enjoy the sun.

I would've rocked this but glad I don't have to!

I love being outside and I love the sun, but the sun does not love me and that is where I the great Chemistry Gods for creating sunscreen!

So what is a sunburn?

I've always known they are uncomfortable, damage the skin, and just generally are really bad. Your skin feels hot, showers become uncomfortable, and, well, you can also peal. These are not pleasant things. However I wondered, scientifically, what's going on?

Well here's what Dermalogica.org has to say:

"A sunburn is the skin’s response to extreme ultraviolet (UV) exposure and indicates severe damage. In as little as 10 minutes of intense UV exposure, the skin sets into motion a system of defense against this enemy."

Basically the UV radiation coming from the sun has "fried" your cells and they are no longer useful. Specifically the UVA and UVB radiation has damaged your cells, since UVC light radiated by the sun doesn't reach the Earth.

So when you get too much sun, here's what's happening:

  • Your skin turns read due to inflammation of the skin (Oh! That's why it's pink)
  • It loses moisture and gets tight (Yep - super itchy)
  • Skin cells will thicken and call on melanin to respond (aka you get a tan, if you are a person who tans) to stop the penetration of the rays (Leather skin - not cool)
  • Your body then quickly generates new copies of your skin cells (Go go cell regeneration!)

In general, your body is good at replacing the damaged cells but occassionally they can get damaged and then start to replicate the damaged cells and this is what will cause skin cancer. Cells mutate due to damage, your body creates copies of the mutations, and VOILA - cancer! (this is super generalized but you get the picture)

If your skin peals after being sunburned, this is your bodies way of getting rid of the damaged cells. Your skin cells are "commiting suicide". If it blisters, seek additional assitance.

Okay so that's what happens when I don't wear sunscreen. I damage my skin cells due to UVA and UVB radiation from the sun. Not good.

So how does sunscreen prevent this?

According to skincancer.org:

"Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin"

Me: "So it like gives me a forcefield? Like a superhero? Neato! I want to be a superhero all the time!"

Specifically, sunscreen is block UVA and UVB radiation from penetrating the skin to damage the cells.

What SPF do you need?

Well it depends but most people recommend SPF 30.  SPF ONLY tells you the amount of UVB blocked (the ones that generally cause sunburn) and not UVA rays (which normally causes other types of skin damage). In broad terms, SPF 15 means you an stay outside 15 times longer without getting burned, this formula blocks out 93% of all UVB radiation.

You: "So Katherine, I can stay outside for 5 hours if I can normally stay outside for 20 min without getting burned?"

Me: "No"

In actuality, no sunscreen formula is created to last for more than 2 hours so reapply, reapply, REAPPLY! You should also apply it 15 minutes before going out in the sun to ensure it has time to "soak in" or "set".

Be sure to look for a UVA/UVB formula too and if you are planning to swim or are a heavy sweater, look for "No Sweat" or "Water Resistant" formulas to make sure you stay covers.

What to look for in a sunscreen:

  • SPF 15-50 - It's all about reapplying so higher SPFs usually just mean more chemicals
  • Water resistant or sweat resistant formulas if you are being active (as a heavy sweater this is super important for me)
  • Avoid these ingredients:
    • Retinyl Palmitate (only anti-aging, not a sunscreen ingredient, just a questionable chemical)
    • Oxybenzone (Can interact with hormones)
    • You can find a list of sunscreens deemed safe by the Environmental Working Group

So find a sunscreen that protects againts UVA/UVB radiation, can withstand your activity, and doesn't have any nasty chemicals in it and don't forget to REAPPLY!

Some other fun facts to end on thanks to How Stuff Works:

  • The peak hours for sun are between 10 and 4. Wear sunscreen!
  • People with fair skin (like yours truly) can start to burn within a half-hour of being out in the sun.
  • You do need to be very careful when in the sun at high elevations, but it's a 4 percent UV increase each time you rise 1,000 feet. (So if you come visit me in the Boulder/Denver area, we have 20% more radiation than all you sea level peeps!)
  • Snow reflects the light back towards you so even in winter, wear sunscreen!
  • All the cool kids are wearing sunscreen so you should too!

Okay maybe I made up that last one but you get the point. So no matter if you are training, racing, hiking, walking, or anything else, grab some sunscreen to make sure you are covered.

Be a superhero - not a lobster!