I read the other day that Brigitte Bardot was the woman who made sun tanning popular, sexy and an absolute must have. She was apparently photographed at the Cannes Festival way back when and looked so voluptuous and sexy in her gorgeous tan and blonde hair that it made world headlines everywhere. Ah, those were the days when voluptuous meant sexy and desirable, not plump or overweight.
Prior to that pale was beautiful and women wore hats and carried a parasol (or umbrella if you want to be that common) and simpered in pale flowing chiffon on the patio. Yes, I’m exaggerating but no way can I see us doing that these days unless you are nursing a hangover and don’t want to be in the sun. Fine, I know we should not overdo it, but get real, a tan looks really good and brown bulges are soooo much sexier than marble white thighs. Please, just a little bit of colour for that healthy glow!
However, in more recent photographs she should be a warning to all of us and I don’t care whether you are milky white, mysteriously dusky or gloriously dark, be warned that sooner or later Old Spikes will get you if you are not careful. But to help you through the minefield of which sunscreen is best I thought I would debunk a few myths and explain how it really works.
Sunscreens and UV Rays
Buying sunscreen is as mindboggling as finding the best vitamin combination for yourself! So let’s start with the sun’s rays and the two categories of UV light:
- UVA is deep penetrating, causes long term damage to the skin, skin cancers and UVA is about 95% of the UV radiation that we are exposed to.
- UVB is a shorter wave light which causes sunburn as well as skin cancers.
What you are looking for is a sunscreen that protects you from both and this should be applied all over at least 15-30 minutes before you go out into the sun.
Now that we know what causes the problem, let’s look at a solution by way of the two major types of sunscreens:
- Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays.
- Physical sunscreens reflect UV rays because it is a physical block that forms a layer on top of the skin.
Both are classified as broad spectrum and they are designed to protect you from both UV devils.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF)
The myth I wanted to expose was that the higher the SPF factor, the better the protection. Yes, not a lie, but the increase in protection is very small from SPF 15 to SPF 30. Whereas SPF15 absorbs 93.3% of UVB rays, a SPF30 will absorb 96.7%.
Don’t forget that SPF only measure UVB protection, so check the label to ensure that the product you are buying gives protection against UVA and UVB rays. Fortunately new legislation demands that the protection level against each type of radiation must be printed on the packaging which will help us a lot in determining the best product for our type of skin.
The next question we ask ourselves is how long can I now stay in the sun with a good sunscreen. You will know your own skin type and approximately how long before you will burn without a sunscreen, so times that by the SPF number you have used and that will give a time limit. For example if a fair person tends to burn after 10 minutes in the sun, an SPF15 will allow you to be in the sun for about 150 minutes before you could burn. However, also take into consideration perspiration and diminished protection when swimming and make sure you reapply during the day.
I strongly recommend you don’t take any chances because the result is just awful. Sunburn after the first day of your well-earned holiday will really mess up at least the next three days and it doesn’t improve much. Once you start peeling, you have to be extra careful again, so rather be gentle to your skin. It’s the only one you have and it’s got to last a long time, and replacement is not an option.
A tan acquired over a week or so will last longer, look better and at least you won’t be damaging your skin for years to come.