We all know we should wear sunscreen, but all the different choices for protection coupled with the media buzz over every new scientific finding on sun damage can inspire a person to do a whole lot of nothing when it comes to their skin protection. But for the average person looking to prevent sunburn, sun damage, and skin cancer, arming yourself with knowledge doesn’t need to be difficult at all. Here’s a 5-minute rundown of what you need to know about sun protection.

UVB rays: Not only do these rays penetrate and damage skin deep down, contributing to skin cancer, they’re the ones that leave you lobster-red. Insult to injury. By the way, “SPF” is a measure of a product’s protection against UVB rays, but doesn’t measure how well a product protects against UVA. A product can protect against UVB but not UVA rays.

UVA rays: These rays won’t cause sunburn, but they cause wrinkles, age spots, and blotchy skin. Even worse, they contribute to skin cancer just like UVB rays. There is no standard US metric of a product’s protection against UVA rays, but there are many products on the market which do offer UVA protection. You just might need to do a little detective work!

Sunblock: Sunblock is made up of ingredients which physically deflect the sun’s rays, like tiny knight’s shields. Examples of sunblock ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Sensitive skin that’s irritated by chemical sunscreen may find that sunblock is the answer. Because sunblock deflects all rays, it protects against both UVA and UVB.

Sunscreen: Sunscreen is comprised of chemicals which absorb the sun’s rays, preventing it from penetrating skin. Older chemicals used in sunscreen only absorbed UVB rays with efficacy, but newer formulations like avobenzone can absorb UVA light. If you like the quick, non-greasy absorption of sunscreen rather than sunblock, make sure your sunscreen of choice protects against both types of rays.

See? That’s not so hard. Whether you prefer sunblock or sunscreen, the bottom line is to look for a product that offers broad spectrum protection (this means it protects against both UVA and UVB – when in doubt, ask your dermatologist for a recommendation) and wear it every day. Yes, even in fall and winter!

Fess up for real: do you wear sun protection every day?

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