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Sunscreen is considered one of the quintessential summer items. As the days get longer, and schools begin to close, we break out our swimsuits, shorts, and, of course, sunscreen. While sunscreen is definitely important in the summer months, we seem to forget how important it is throughout the year. Not only is sunscreen extremely important all year around for your health and beauty, it also has a fascinating history.
Sun protection is a relatively new thing. The first recorded use of sunscreen (or a sunscreen-like product) was in 1938, not even 100 years ago (The New York Times), After getting a sunburn while hiking Mt. Piz Buin on the Austria-Switzerland border, Franz Greiter set out to develop his own way to protect himself from sunburns. He ended up developing Piz Buin sunscreen, which he didn’t market until 1946 (you can still get the brand today). However, the first commercially available sunscreen was Coppertone, which started to be sold in 1944. It was developed in World War II by American airman and pharmacist Benjamin Green. He used a greasy and heavy substance called “red vet pet” to protect his soldiers from sunburn. When he came back home, he lightened the substance with cocoa butter and coconut oil to create Coppertone suntan cream, which has become a household name. In 1978, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began to regulate sunscreen and suntan oils for their effectiveness. The FDA then began to create guidelines for SPF testing and labelling.
How does sunscreen work? Sunscreen blocks light particles called ultraviolet photons from reaching our skin (Scientific American). The sun produces two kinds of ultraviolet photons: UVA rays and UVB rays. In the short term, these rays can cause a sunburn. UVA rays are longer, so they end up penetrating the skin to cause problems with your immune system and age the skin. UVB rays are shorter and are the cause of sunburns and skin cancer, as the shorter rays are more likely to mess up your DNA. Sunscreen acts as a shield against these rays by either scattering, absorbing, or reflecting the sun rays. The SPF labels on sunscreen signify the proportion of photons that the sunscreen deflects. For instance, SPF 10 sunscreen blocks out 90% of photons, and SPF 20 sunscreen blocks out 95% of photons.
While sunscreen is seen as a summer product, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, one should be putting on sunscreen every day. In fact, on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays can still penetrate your skin, and snow can still reflect rays to potentially cause sunburns (AAD). The Academy recommends that you always use an SPF of 30 or higher every day you are going to be outside, whether that is going to be a rain storm, snow day, or out at the beach. Remember to put sunscreen on every part of your body that is going to be exposed to the sun, including ears, arms, and legs. It is also important to use a lip balm to protect your lips from sunburn as well. Be sure to apply your sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside (to let the sunscreen set in), and be sure to reapply your sunscreen every two hours that you’re going to be outside (keep in mind that activities like swimming may make it so you might have to apply it earlier).
Even if you are of a darker skin tone, it’s abundantly important to wear sunscreen. While it is true that people with a darker skin tone will filter out more UV light than someone with a lighter skin tone, you will still be getting skin damage from the light and are still in danger for skin cancer (Consumer Reports). Even if you do have dark skin, you definitely need sunscreen. Because of the pigments in sunscreen, it is often harder to find a product that does not leave a white cast. Here is a link to 11 recommended sunscreen products that works with darker skin tones. Following these guidelines will help keep you safer from skin cancer and keep your skin looking younger.
Sunscreen is mostly associated with summer; however, sunscreen is a needed product for all year around. While we might be outside more often in the summer, our skin is still vulnerable to sunburn, especially on snowy days and cloudy days. Also, people with deeper skin tones still need to protect their skin from the damaging effects of sun exposure like skin cancer and should take care to wear sunscreen. Luckily, sunscreen acts to shield us from harmful ultraviolet rays. Be sure to use sunscreen this summer and beyond. Your skin will definitely thank you.