Sunblock 101

Sunburned? Click here for everything you need to know about sunblock.

by Anne Middleton, on June 17th, 2016

The actual definition of sunblock is “a lotion that you put on your skin to prevent sunburn by completely blocking out the sun's rays.”   Today, there is a slightly more comprehensive description that includes products that are lotions sprays, gels or other topical solutions. Sunblock absorbs or reflects some of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays to protect against sunburn. The SPF level is an important consideration when you select a sunblock.  SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to prevent UVB rays from damaging the skin.

Protect Yourself

We all remember the painful experience of getting horrible sunburn after a day at the beach from penetrating UV rays.  The redness, the sensitivity, the peeling of the skin…yuck!  Once you suffer through all the unpleasant after-effects of sunburn, you promise yourself you’ll never be without sunblock again.

Protection from the nasty UV rays is essential for the health of our skin.  There two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB.  Both damage the skin, age it prematurely and increase the risk of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation:

• UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn

• UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with wrinkles and skin discoloration

The American Cancer Society states that skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer.  One out of every five Americans will get skin cancer at some point in their lives, and the disease will kill more than 12,000 people in the United States annually.

Many skin cancers are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, tanning beds or other sources. Fortunately, it is relatively simple to limit excessive UV ray exposure and lower your risk of skin cancer with the regular use of sun protection.

Sunblock with proper SPF levels can offer the essential protection!  Effective sunblock products contain ingredients that help in absorbing, reflecting and scattering destructive UV rays.

What to Buy

The drug store shelves are packed full of dozens and dozens of sunblock options.  It can all be a bit confusing. To assist in making the best choice, below is a list of features every sunblock product should have:

1. Broad spectrum. Sunblock that is labeled "broad spectrum," means that it protects from both the sun's UVA and UVB rays and should be the only type of sunblock you purchase.

Consider choosing a sunblock that contains the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These ingredients are able to reflect UV rays so that they are not absorbed by your skin. They have been shown to be safe and effective in preventing the negative effects of the sun.

2. Water and sweat resistance. If you're going to be exercising or frolicking in the water, purchase a sunscreen resistant to water and sweat. No matter how long-lasting the sunblock is supposed to be, be sure reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and more often if you're playing in the bright sunshine.

3. Expiration. It is necessary to pay attention to the expiration date on the bottle. Just like that quart of milk in your refrigerator, sunscreen loses its effectiveness over time. Throw out any sunscreen that is past its expiration date or if you have had it for 3 years or longer.

4. SPF level.  As mentioned, the SPF is a gauge of the sunblock’s effectiveness against sunburn-causing ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Sunblocks are formulated to provide protection these harmful UV rays.

An SPF rating system has been established by the Food and Drug Administration to measure the amount of UVB sunburn protection the product will provide and indicates how much longer an individual can be in the sun before becoming burned.

- SPF 15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UVB rays,
- SPF 30 blocks 97%,
- SPF 50 blocks 98%
- No sunscreen can block 100% of all UVB rays

5. Cloudy Days. Even if it is cloudy outside, sunblock should become a requirement in your life when preparing to go outside. Some medical experts state that even on an overcast day, up to 80% of the dangerous UV rays still make it through the clouds. And concrete, sand, water and snow reflect up to 85% of the sun's UV rays. Yes, you can get sunburned when snowboarding.

Kids and Sunblock

Even with the popularity of video games and time on the computer, most kids get much of their lifetime sun exposure before the age of 18. So it is important for parents to teach children how to enjoy fun in the sun safely. Kids should learn how to apply sunblock 15 to 30 minutes they go outside.

It is also beneficial to be a sun-safe role model for your child by consistently using sunscreen of SPF 30 or greater and limiting your time in the sun. Doing so not only reduces your own risk of sun damage, it also teaches your kids good sun sense.

One Last Reminder

Your best bet to protect your skin from the destructive UV rays is to slather sunblock all over your whole body, and remember those hard to easily forgotten places like the back of your neck and behind your ears. Choose a sunblock with at least a SPF of 30 and have a super summer!


Don't forget that sunblock is not for summer only. In fact, we even list the importance of UV protection in our post on winter skin care.