No matter what time of year it is, it’s important to wear sunscreen — but it’s only really effective if you’re using the right kind. Here’s a crash course to help you better understand what you’re getting when you purchase your next bottle.
SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor,” and the higher the number the stronger the protection. SPF 15, for example, indicates that it will take 15 hours in the sun for you to receive the same amount of sun damage as you would by spending one hour in the sun unprotected. It blocks about 93% of UV rays. That sounds impressive, but it’s far from the most effective sunblock you could purchase: SPF 50 lets you spend 50 hours in the sun before receiving the equivalent of one unprotected hour in the sun, and it blocks 98% of UV rays.
Whatever sunscreen you wear, though, you should reapply every two hours. You should also make sure it is water-resistant and non-comedogenic. Water-resistant sunscreen means you’ll stay protected even if you decide to take a dip in the pool, while non-comedogenic sunscreen doesn’t block pours, which reduces the chance for pimples and blemishes.
You should apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside to allow the active ingredients time to bind to your skin. The ideal amount to cover your entire body is one to two ounces, which is equal to the size of a ping pong ball or an egg. Make sure you apply it to commonly missed spots, like behind the ears, the back of the neck and on top of your feet.
And, don’t assume that you only need protection from the sun on sunny days. The reality is that the sun’s UV rays can penetrate your skin when it’s cloudy – or even when it’s snowing! In fact, snow and sand increase the need for sunscreen because snow reflects 80% of the sun’s rays, while sand reflects 25%.