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Protection from Summer’s UV Rays May Be Just a Bottle Away

two people in a kayak applying sunscreen to protect their skin

Sunscreen Vs. Sunblock and Which to Choose

By Sarah Wilczek PharmD., pharmacist at Network Health
6/14/2022

A famous quote paraphrases poet Charles Swain and states, “Keep your face to the sunlight, and the shadows will fall behind you.” While this inspirational bit of encouragement does wonders for the spirit, those who have spent any amount of time in the sunlight know that the sun’s heat and harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause you to long for those shadows.

We love our beautiful sun and the vitamin D it gives to our bodies, but we also cannot ignore that its light and heat can mean heat exhaustion, dehydration and even skin cancer.

A healthy relationship with our solar system’s superstar means planning ahead to reduce overexposure, exercising at non-peak sunlight times, staying hydrated and frequent and liberal applications of sunblock or sunscreen.

Yep, it’s true. Sunscreen and sunblock aren’t just optional items for days outside but total necessities for preventing skin cancer and reducing uncomfortable burning. Both are effective and worthwhile. Building habits into your outdoor routines may even help save a life.

Sunscreen vs. sunblock

You may think the two terms are interchangeable, but sunscreen and sunblock describe different chemicals that both work toward the same goal of protecting your skin from UV rays.

Sunscreen (also called chemical sunscreen)

Think of chemical sunscreen like a screen door for your skin. It lets light pass through but transforms harmful UV radiation into light and heat. Sunscreen is typically transparent when rubbed onto the skin.

Sunblock (also called physical sunscreen)

Sunblock, on the other hand, works like a shield using minerals like zinc or titanium oxide to block sunlight entirely and reflect UV rays back toward the sun. For this reason, sunblock usually looks white when it’s applied.

Is sunscreen or sunblock better?

Both sunscreen and sunblock are recommended for general application and to prevent damage from UV radiation in the sun. With different approaches to how they both go about preventing this damage, however, you may wonder which one you should be looking out for.

One factor is your own skin sensitivity. If you have sensitive skin, skin health experts recommend sunblock, which has fewer chemicals in its formula that could upset your skin.

Oxybenzone has been categorized as a skin irritant. If you have sensitive skin, you may want to avoid sunscreens with this ingredient.

Beyond that, the distinction comes down to personal preference. However, you should keep in mind that sunscreen or sunblock should both be re-applied every two hours (or every forty minutes if swimming with a water-resistant variant).

Additionally, you should find a broad-spectrum sun protectant (protecting from both UVA and UVB rays) and choose a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30, though higher SPF numbers are recommended for those with fairer skin.

How much sunscreen or sunblock should I apply?

Whether you choose chemical sunscreen or physical sunscreen, you’ll typically want to use a shot-glass’s worth (1.5 oz.) for your body and a dot the size of a nickel for your face.

Enjoy the Wisconsin summer safely

Whether you decide to choose a sunblock or sunscreen, finding an appropriate SPF that offers broad-spectrum protection and taking care to reapply it frequently will keep your skin safe and protected through the warm summer months.

It’s also important to use sunscreen when outside in the winter as UV rays can bounce up off the white snow...and that’s all we’re going to say about winter today.

For more information on prevention and enjoying the full year of seasons in Wisconsin, contact us today.

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