Picking The Right SPF in Midlife
The summer’s finally here —the time for BBQs, beach days, and general fun in the sun. But as good as the sun can feel on your skin (especially after that long, gloomy winter), it’s essential to protect your skin from it, especially if you’re in midlife. Sun exposure can not only raise the likelihood of skin cancer (the most common form of cancer in the US); it’s also the top cause of premature skin aging.
So, as you get your beach bag ready, take a minute to rethink your SPF routine, too.
Why Is It So Important to Wear Sunscreen in Midlife?
It’s important to wear sunscreen at every age, to protect yourself from UVA and UVB rays, which can cause sun damage and increase the odds of skin cancer. But the older we get, the quicker sun damage manifests itself, because it is harder for the skin to repair itself — just a few hours in the sun without sunscreen can lead to stubborn sun spots, as well as deeper damage that takes longer to see.
Even if you didn’t wear much sunscreen when you were younger, it’s not too late to start; every day you wear sunscreen now prevents new sun damage.
How Do You Pick the Right SPF?
SPF means “sun protection factor.” It measures how much of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays the sunscreen blocks. Higher SPFs block more rays. For example, SPF 15 allows 7 percent of the sun’s rays through, SPF 30 allows 3 percent of UVB rays through, and SPF allows 2 percent of UVB rays through. Though those numbers might seem tiny, remember how much sun you got the last time you used SPF 15 — 7 percent of the sun’s rays can do a lot of damage!
But you don’t need to go with the highest SPF possible — the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends anyone outdoors for an extended period use an SPF of at least 30. But you may want to go higher, around SPF 50, because it offers more protection from sun damage to older skin. SPFs over 50 are more likely to irritate the skin, because their ingredients are more concentrated, and they can give users a false sense of complete protection from the sun, when in reality, all sunscreens can only provide some protection for two hours at a time.
Regardless of SPF, make sure to also choose a sunscreen that is broad spectrum and water resistant.
What Are The Different Kinds of Sunscreen?
Mineral sunscreen is also known as “physical sunscreen” because it provides a physical barrier between your skin and the sun’s rays. Ingredients like zinc oxide provide cover for your skin, reflecting its harmful rays.
Chemical sunscreen, a.k.a. standard or traditional sunscreen, absorbs into the skin and then uses a chemical mechanism to absorb the sun’s rays, preventing them from being absorbed by the skin itself.
How to Apply Sunscreen
Make sure you’ve covered all of your skin
It’s essential to cover every part of your body that will see the sun, especially areas like your neck and chest, where the skin is delicate and are likely to be sun damaged. If possible, have someone else apply sunscreen to your back or other areas that are difficult to reach.
If you’re using spray-on sunscreen, don’t just spray and go — rub it in to make sure that the sunscreen has actually been absorbed. It’s easy to miss body parts or even have the sunscreen blow away in the wind when using spray-on, so pay attention and make sure that every body part feels coated.
If you’re using mineral sunscreen, you need to apply far more than you would with chemical sunscreen — you’ll know you’ve applied it correctly if there’s a bit of a white cast over all the skin that is coated. If you don’t love that look, many brands offer tinted mineral sunscreen, which looks a lot like tinted moisturizer, and can serve the same role as a primer or foundation in your beauty routine.
Apply 15 minutes in advance
Most of us apply our sunscreen once we’re out on the beach or by the pool, but according to the American Academy of Dermatology, it takes 15 minutes for sunscreen to be absorbed by your skin and protect it from the sun. Try to apply before you leave for your trip to the beach or your hike, when you’re getting dressed.
Re-apply sunscreen every 2 hours when you’re outdoors
Even high SPFs only work for about 120 minutes; after that, their protection degrades. So, take time to reapply every two hours, from morning until about 4 or 5pm, when the sun is less directly overhead.
Sun protection can seem complicated, but it isn’t; ultimately, the best sunscreen is whatever you use. SPF and type of sunscreen are important, but the most important thing of all when selecting sunscreens is to pick one you’ll actually want to use.