How Does Sunscreen Protect You?

Sunscreen is comprised of particles that physically bounce radiation off the skin and react with UV rays. Courtesy of Korean Beacon.

With spring in full force and summer just around the corner, we will all doubtlessly be getting more sun. But while basking in the warmth, you won’t want to worry about sunburn. As we all have been endlessly reminded from our favorite television shows and perhaps our nagging mothers, sunscreen is essential for protecting our skin from UV light — but how exactly does this lotion work?

Sunscreen works by blocking and absorbing UV rays through a combination of physical and chemical particles. Physical particles, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are used to reflect UV radiation from the skin. At the same time, complex chemical ingredients in sunscreen react with radiation before it penetrates the skin, absorbing the rays and releasing the energy as heat.

A combination of blocking and absorbing UV radiation is especially important to combat both UVB and UVA rays. UVB radiation is the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. UVA rays, on the other hand, penetrate more deeply into the skin and were once thought to only cause skin aging and wrinkling. However, recent research has confirmed that UVA rays also play a significant role in the development of skin cancer. Still, many sunscreens on the market contain ingredients that only block UVB rays, thus providing insufficient protection against harmful UVA radiation.

Another factor to consider in sunscreen is the sun protection factor, or SPF. which is commonly misconceived as the strength of protection. However, it actually refers to how much longer it takes for UVB rays to redden the skin with sunscreen compared to without sunscreen. For example, an SPF of 15 means it will take 15 times longer for skin to burn while using the product compared to without the product.

Therefore, look for a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection with an SPF of 15 or higher so that you can better enjoy fun in the sun.