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  • Writer's pictureMaria H. Drzaszcz

Sun protection basics

courtesy photo

Spring is here and the sun is shining longer now. We all are happy to be out and about in the nice weather. While we need that Vitamin D from the sun, we also need to be wise about sun protection. I’d like to go over some sunscreen and sunblock basics to keep in mind as summer quickly approaches.

Why do we need to use sunscreen or sunblock? This is a question I get asked by my kids a lot, as I slather or spray away. My kids are not sunscreen or sunblock fans, but I remind them that just like wearing seatbelts and healthy eating, it is a measure we take to protect out health. Sunscreen and sunblock protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UVA and UVB rays. Over time and exposure, these UV rays can lead to sun burns that cause premature skin aging (thin wrinkly, leathered skin) and skin cancers. Any amount of color to your skin is an injury. There is no such thing as “healthy” color or a “healthy” tan. Each time you get sunburn, you increase your risk of developing melanoma. Our body counts sun exposure cumulatively.

What’s the difference between sunscreen and sunblock? Think chemical and physical barriers. Sunscreen is the chemical kind that absorbs UV rays. Chemical sunscreen contains ingredients like avobenzone, homosalate, and octinoxate .They absorb the sun’s rays, transforming them into heat, which then is released from your skin. Chemical sunscreens take about 20 minutes to activate after application, so lotion up before you head out. Sunblock literally blocks the UV rays by forming a physical barrier on the skin. Sunblocks are ones that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and work like a mirror, deflecting the sun’s rays from your skin. They can be less likely to clog pores and less likely to cause an allergic reaction.

Protection is instant once applied.

Which kind is best for young kids? It’s going to depend on personal preference and your budget. Sunblock’s, containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, are usually a bit more expensive. They go on very thick, greasy, and white, but are usually better for younger babies or for people with sensitive skin. The spray type is usually chemical sunscreen and can offer more convenience when you’re on the go versus the thicker lotion type. Using something is better than using nothing.

Which SPF to use? The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher for any extended outdoor activity. Regardless of the SPF, it is important to apply at least 20- 30 minutes before going outside, giving it time to absorb. Also, reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming, sweating or towel drying.

If you are choosing a sunscreen over a sunblock, make sure it says “broad spectrum”, so you are getting protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Check the expiration dates on the cans or bottles from last year. They do expire. Shake them up before using as well. Remember the hats, sun shirts, eye protection and to take shade breaks too.

Have a healthy and sunny spring!

Maria H. Drzaszcz, a Hammonton resident, is a registered nurse with 14 years critical care experience and is the proud mom of three young children.


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