Sunscreen Sundries

sun scale
Summertime is in full swing and you’re probably having lots of fun in the sun but there’s nothing more sure to spoil your fun than a nasty sunburn. So, in addition to reminding you to Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap as you prepare to head out the door, I thought I’d also share some interesting sunscreen trivia & info:

  • The ancient Greeks used olive oil as a type of sunscreen, although it wasn’t especially effective.
  • The first effective, mass-produced sunscreen was invented in 1944 by airman turned pharmacist Benjamin Greene who was looking to protect World War II soldiers stationed in the South Pacific from the sun’s harmful rays. Greene tested the sticky, red substance which he called “Red Vet Pet” on his own bald head. After the war, he refined the formula and sold it under the new company name, Coppertone.
  • Sunscreens work by either blocking or absorbing ultraviolet light. Opaque minerals like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide physically block or scatter UVA (the “aging” rays) whereas chemical blockers like avobenzone and Mexoryl SX absorb UVB (the “burning” rays) and dissipate that as heat. You should select a sunscreen that combines these two approaches for a broader spectrum of protection—look for one with at least 7% of one of the physical blocker ingredients (zinc is better!) and an SPF of at least 30.
  • SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, was introduced in 1962 as a measurement of a product’s ability to block out the sun’s burning rays. Note that more is not necessarily better with SPF. Stick with a product with an SPF of 30-50. Sunscreens with an SPF of 70, 90, or even 100+ certainly sound impressive, but they’re only marginally better, if at all.
  • The FDA has proposed a “star-rating” system to identify the level of UVA protection found in sunscreen, with 1 star indicating low and 4 stars indicating the highest UVA protection available in an over-the-counter product. The proposal also mandates that sunscreens which do not provide at least a minimal level of UVA protection must bear a “no UVA protection” marking on the front label near the SPF value.
  • Researchers suggest the most effective protection is achieved by generously applying sunscreen 15–30 minutes before exposure, followed by a reapplication 15–30 minutes after the sun exposure begins. But you also need to reapply every 2–3 hours and after swimming in order for the sunscreen to remain effective.
  • There’s mounting evidence that sunscreens containing retinyl palmitate (vitamin A) should be avoided because when used topically, this ingredient may actually increase your risk of skin cancer. For more info on this and much, much more, be sure to check out the Environmental Working Group’s Sunscreen Guide. (Link updated for 2012.)
  • Cover up! Although UV rays can still penetrate them, using a wide-brimmed hat and clothing made of tightly-woven fibers can significantly boost your sun protection. And don’t forget to use sun-blocking lip balm and UV-protectant sunglasses!

Bonus trivia: Hippos spend up to 16 hours a day submerged in water to stay cool. But while the water prevents the lumbering mammals from getting overheated, it doesn’t offer much in the way of skin protection. So the hippopotamus produce their own sunscreen! They secrete a highly-acidic, blood-red, gelatinous, oily fluid from glands underneath the skin that protects them from UV rays and insects.

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