For years I have been getting conflicting answers to this question (covered also in the previous post Sunshine; A Necessary Evil). When I was in school I was told to only put on sun screen when I would be out in the sun for extended periods, like days spent on the blacktop in summer. But as I got older I would be told to use sun screen more and more as instances of skin cancer rose. But with everyone slathering on the sunscreen do we get too little sun? Should we use a low SPF? Or a higher one? What does SPF even mean? What on Earth is PA+? Well have no fear I have hunted around and found the answers for you.

To start with let’s break down what sun exposure really is. The damaging sun rays that we are exposed to on the daily (yes even in winter or on cloudy days) are broken into two types; UVA and UVB. Both of these rays are bad for our skin, causing damage, aging, and even possibly cancer. Look for a sunscreen that says “broad spectrum protection” or “UVA/UVB protection” to make sure you are covered for both types. If your sunscreen contains zinc oxide, dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, or titanium dioxide you are protected from both UVA and UVB rays.

Now on to grades; SPF and PA+ are both scales of sun protection from sun screen. The more + symbols next to the PA the higher on the SPF scale the protection is. Keep in mind that most products labeled PA only protect against UVA rays. Back when I believed sunscreen was something you only applied at the pool I used the highest strength I could find (my pale skin only turns one shade, lobster). Even if you tan rather then burn sun exsposure is harmful for you. I recently discovered that a tan is your body combating the harmful affects of sun rays, in other words it is just as bad as a full on bright red burn. Then when I discovered the fact that you should always put sunscreen on your face I searched around for a moisturizer with sun screen. Eureka! I found a non greasy one at a local store with SPF 15. Was this enough I asked myself. Well nearly every other product only had SPF 15 so it was good right? Wrong. After actually taking the time to Google this I have found that any SPF below 30 is not going to cut it. And no stacking SPF’s together does not add up to 100. If you wear SPF 15 sunscreen, SPF 15 make up and SPF 30 moisturizer; your protection is SPF 30 (the highest number in your routine). Your sunscreen should always be the last thing you apply to keep it from being diluted (wait for it to dry before applying make up).

Even if your sunscreen is a high SPF you still need to reapply it on a regular basis, especially if you are sweating or in water. Your sunscreen is important even if you are not in direct sunlight. You can still get sun damage through an office window or a car window. If you don’t think you need sun screen when driving look up the case of Bill McElligot who drove a truck for years with no sun screen. o-BILL-MCELLIGOTT-SUN-DAMAGE-570

No you are not looking at an age progression photo or a before and after photo for wrinkle cream. This is a photo of sun exposure through a truck window during years of driving with no sun screen. But if I can direct your attention to the other side of the man’s face you’ll notice how drastically less aged it looks. This side of his face spent years out of the sun in the shade of his truck. Now it’s time to choose which side of the photo you want to be on, the left or the right.

On a final note (after I have scared you with the worst of the sun) let’s revisit the benefits of sun exposure. Getting at least a few minutes of unfiltered sun (not during the hours of 10am to 2pm when the sun is at its harshest) helps your body produce vitamin D and other important vitamins. Sun exposure can even help combat some mental illnesses. So do your best to avoid the sun like a vampire but remember that the sun can be your friend.