Summer’s in, sun’s out. With the abundance of sunny weather in summer, outdoor activities rank high in our weekend to-do list. Often, that involves heading out to the beach or the pool. Most men plan months in advance to look their shirtless best at these activities: work out, eat right and do whatever else it takes to get that lean, buff bod.
You may be all muscled up for summer now with a spanking new set of abs, but do you know what else you need to do to have a good time? With all that time out under the sun and most of your skin being exposed to the sun’s rays, you need to make sure you get a good sunscreen to protect yourself against sunburn (ouch, and not pretty), and the gnarly long-term side-effects of too much sun: premature skin aging, and *gulp* potential skin cancer.
“Easy enough”, some of you might say and you’d probably end up grabbing the cheapest bottle of sunscreen available or whichever one is on sale. However, not all sunscreens are made the same.
There’s a lot to talk about in terms of sunscreen but, here are four essential pointers to help make your sunscreen shopping stress-free.
Spray, lotion, cream, balm, stick… which type should I get?
Any area of skin that’s exposed to the sun should be covered in sunscreen. If most of your torso is going to be exposed, you’d be better off buying a spray-on sunscreen. This provides you with ease of application, especially at hard-to-reach places such as your back. Ease of application is very important as you do need to reapply your sunscreen periodically, especially if you’re sweating a lot or if you’re going into the water. If you’re not alone (lucky you) or you’ve no qualms about asking a stranger for help, then any other format of sunscreen will work for you.
Do remember that you’d need to protect your face as well. Check to make sure that your sunscreen is labelled as good for face and body. That assures you that it’s non-comedogenic and hence won’t cause breakouts on your face due to clogged pores.
SPF30, 50, 80… 100?! What are these numbers?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, SPF (Sun Protection Factor) “is a measure of how much solar energy (UV radiation) is required to produce sunburn on protected skin (i.e., in the presence of sunscreen) relative to the amount of solar energy required to produce sunburn on unprotected skin”. Therefore, as the SPF value goes up, so does your sun protection. According to them, there’s a popular misconception that the SPF value only corresponds to the length of time to sun exposure. It goes something like this: say your unprotected skin suffers sunburn when exposed to the sun for 10 minutes, an SPF30 is thus assumed to extend that time by 30x. In other words, the sunscreen of SPF30 now allows you to spend 300 minutes under the sun before your skin burns.
While there is truth there, length of time is not the only factor determining the intensity of your sun exposure. The time of the day plays a part as well (midday sun is the strongest). So do other factors such as, the density of clouds present in the sky (less clouds, more sun and vice versa), skin type (lighter skin burns more easily) and frequency of reapplication (the less frequent, the lower the protection).
Confused, yet? When in doubt, always go for a higher SPF value.
Should I apply it once, twice… ?
Frequency of application matters (see above regarding SPF value). If you’re going to be sweating a lot, being in contact with water or engaging in sports, you’ll need to reapply frequently as it’s very likely that your sunscreen would have been rubbed off or diluted by water or your sweat.
So, how much is enough?
When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me, “do it properly or don’t do it at all”. This applies to sun protection as well. Simply going through the motion of applying sunscreen isn’t going to give you the full protection you need. In fact, the common mistake that most people make is not applying the minimally effective amount. The most frequently quoted dosage among dermatologists is about 2 milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre of skin. Don’t go weighing your sunscreen just yet. There’s an easier visual gauge: just use about a teaspoonful worth of sunscreen when it comes to your face. Sadly, there isn’t an equivalent when it comes to our body, but, your best bet would be to apply more if you think it isn’t enough. When it comes to sunscreen, less is definitely not more.