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Sunscreen 101

By Nathaniel Wu


It's a beautiful day and perfect for going outside. The sun is shining brightly, and the weather feels cool enough to enjoy what nature has to offer. Most would fill a bottle of water and head out. However, they often forget one essential item: sunscreen. Although the sun has various health benefits like synthesizing Vitamin D and keeping us warm, the UV rays can permanently damage our skin. Even with the body's natural defense against UV rays (melanin), skin cancer is still the most common cancer worldwide. With these facts, it is vital to protect our skin, even if we may not currently feel the effects.

There are two main categories of sunscreen: physical, which reflects UV light, and chemical, which converts UV light into heat. Neither is better than the other, but the main difference is in the active ingredients. Regardless of the type, the process is more or less the same. When applying sunscreen, be sure to use at least 1 ounce (about a shot glass) to cover the entire body. Pay special attention to the lips and ears and reapply every 2 hours. In addition to wearing sunscreen, experts also recommend wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade when possible.

The variety of sunscreens can feel overwhelming at times, but don't fret! Here is a list of 4 factors to consider when buying sunscreen:

  • Ingredients - for most people, ingredients are not a deciding factor when looking at sunscreens. However, some have sensitive skin, so make sure that the ingredients in the sunscreen will not cause a reaction.

  • SPF - contrary to popular belief, SPF is not as important as it may seem. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, and SPF 50 blocks 98%. Experts recommend an SPF of 30+ and do keep in mind that increase in protection plateaus as SPF increases.

  • Broad Spectrum - there are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. Although UVA causes aging and UVB causes burning, both types can cause skin cancer. Broad Spectrum offers protection from both UVA and UVB, so it should be a priority when purchasing sunscreen.

  • Like it - the best sunscreen is one that you will wear. Some are indifferent to the types of sunscreen, while others care about how it looks and feels. Luckily, the variety of sunscreens ensures that there is one for you.


Skin is our body's largest organ and it protects us from almost all dangers of the outside world. With all the sunscreens available, let's return the favor and protect our skin from harmful UV rays.

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