What’s the difference between UVA and UVB protection in sunscreen? Why do some brands cost so much more than others? If you’ve ever stood in the sunscreen aisle and wondered about the dizzying variety of products, you’re not alone. Many people use any product that lists an adequate sounding-SPF (sun protection factor), believing it will keep the sun’s harmful rays at bay. Unfortunately, the sunscreen equation is not so simple. Here’s how to find the sunscreen that’s best for your skin.
The Skin Cancer Foundation Recommends It
We know that ultraviolent radiation (UVR) damages DNA because it leads to mutations that cause cancer. Ultraviolet radiation is bad for your skin, whether it comes from the sun or from a tanning bed.
A shocking 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanoma skin cancers are the result of sun damage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. There are an estimated 3.5 million new cases every year. Consider this: Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles your risk of melanoma later in life.
Sun exposure also makes your skin age faster because it leads to wrinkles, sagging, age spots and leathery-looking skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone use high-quality sunscreen, along with sun avoidance, during the hours that UVR is most intense.
Drugstore Brands Don’t Block UVA
Consumers often wonder about the differences among UVA, UVB, and SPF. Sunlight is made of two types of rays. Both UVA and UVB rays cause sunburn, but UVA penetrates deep into the skin to cause the most intense damage. These are the rays that cause aging below the skin’s surface.
UVB rays damage the top layers of skin. They cause reddening, sunburn, and skin damage. SPF lets you know how long it will take for UVB rays to cause sunburn compared with how quickly your skin would burn without it.
Most drugstore brands of sunscreen block only UVB rays, leaving the skin vulnerable to deep-layer damage from UVA rays.
Medical Sunscreen Is a Truly Safe Alternative
In 2011, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration dropped requirements for sunscreen manufacturers that mandated broad-spectrum ultraviolet protection on humans. It no longer regulates sunscreen effectiveness or ingredients. If you’re using sunscreen that you purchased from the grocery store or drugstore, you’re probably putting product on your skin that doesn’t prevent damage that leads to aging – it just keeps you from experiencing the pain and redness associated with a sunburn.
The lower cost you pay for drugstore brands isn’t really a savings when you consider the price for the anti-aging treatments you may need later in life, and there is no dollar amount that could adequately compensate for skin cancer.