Don’t Get Burned: Your Guide to Stopping Sunburns Before They Start

Studies have shown that people think tanned individuals are more attractive. That bronzed skin is a sign of health and vitality. So, it’s no surprise that so many people jump at the opportunity to soak up some sun and develop a healthy glow when the warmer months come around. After all, spending time in the sun is fun — but sunburns definitely aren’t. However, they happen to the best of us. What’s worse is that over time sunburns can also damage skin elastin, causing your skin to break down and sag. It can also cause more serious problems such as pre-cancerous lesions, tumors, and melanoma. The good news is you can avoid getting burned with these simple tricks.

Choose a Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen

The sun produces three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB, and UVC, with each type affecting the skin in different ways. UVA rays, which accounts for 95 percent of radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, penetrate the skin causing wrinkles, sun spots, and premature aging. They also have a direct link to some forms of skin cancer. UVB rays, on the other hand, affect the top layer of skin and are responsible for most sunburns. They damage the DNA in your skin, are strongly linked to skin cancer, and can burn unprotected skin in as little as 15 minutes. UVC rays are the most intense but are thankfully absorbed by the atmosphere and do not reach the Earth’s surface, so we don’t have to worry about those when stepping outside.

Using a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum or full-spectrum protects you from both UVA and UVB rays and can help you minimize the negative effects that UV rays have on your skin.

Select the Appropriate SPF

SPF stands for sun protection factor and is a measure of how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays (UVA protection isn’t rated yet, but researchers are working on it). It is calculated by how long it takes the sun to burn skin that has been treated with sunscreen versus skin that has not been treated. For instance, SPF 15 means that it would take a person 15 times longer to burn when wearing sunscreen than the person would without sunscreen. So, if it would normally take 10 minutes for you to burn, it would take 150 minutes while wearing SPF 15. That does not mean that SPF 30 is twice as protective as SPF 15 though, as the SPF scale is not linear. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 and 50 block 97% and 98%, respectively. One way of looking at this is that SPF 30 gives only 4% more protection than SPF 15.

As far as selecting an SPF that’s right for you, we recommend erring on the side of caution and going for an SPF 50, especially if you are in the sun during peak hours or have fair skin and burn easily. For those with darker skin who tend not to burn easily, SPF 15 or 30 will usually suffice. Sunscreens with SPFs greater than 50 only provide a small increase in UV protection, and thus do not offer significantly better protection. If you apply correctly and remember to reapply, SPF 50 is all you need.

Apply Generously and Reapply Regularly

Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, you need one ounce of sunscreen to cover your entire body, including your face, ears, and scalp. That’s one shot glass full of sunscreen. Some sunscreens may recommend applying a specific amount, so you should always consult the label to ensure you’re applying enough. If you fail to put enough on, you are not getting full protection and can easily burn. Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before you plan to go outside to allow the ingredients to absorb into your skin, otherwise, you run the risk of sweating off the sunscreen in the first few minutes you’re outside.

It’s also important to reapply regularly, especially if you’re swimming, sweating, or outside for a prolonged period of time. To keep your skin protected, it’s recommended that you apply at least every two hours, and immediately after swimming or sweating.

Lastly, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the hands, feet, and ears, which are often overlooked. It’s also important to wear some sort of protection on your lips and to protect your eyes from sun exposure with sunglasses (preferably polarized).

Limit Sun Exposure, Especially During Peak Hours

UV rays are the strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. During this time, you are more likely to get sunburned. An easy way to avoid running this risk is to plan your outdoor activities before or after this time; but if you must go outside, make sure to limit your exposure to the sun. You can do this by staying in the shade or wearing protective clothing and accessories. This is especially important if you have fair skin or have not spent much time in the sun recently. Contrary to the “build a base” theory that advises spending several hours in the sun the first day it’s warm enough to bust out that swimsuit, it’s best to ease into it and get small amounts of sun at a time.

These are just a few of the ways you can enjoy your time outside without sabotaging your future looks or your skin’s health. So, grab that floatie and hit the pool, just remember to protect your skin when you do.