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Sunscreen 101

My husband LOVES to research things that he's curious about.  He's the guy I go to when I'm trying to decide between two products or trying to figure out the hows and whys of the world.  Given that we're headed to a warm place in the warm (and rainy season), he's recently turned his attention to sunscreen.

Our favorite choice for sunscreen, since our kids were infants, has been Badger.  It's regularly rated a 1 on the Environmental Working Group site.  That's all well and good but on vacation near the equator with five bodies to cover, we would need to take out a small loan just to afford enough Badger for all of us for two weeks.  Paul was also curious about Badger because it's seemed a bit inconsistent lately.  He and my middle daughter both got a mild sunburn over the Fourth of July while the rest of us were unscathed.

Perhaps knowledge about sunscreen is universal and I'd just never known about it, but I was astonished at the info.  We were lucky enough to get a presentation on it from my darling husband, but here's what we learned.

There are three types of "rays" that come from the sun - UVA, UVB and IR.  UVB rays are the rays that contribute to the outer layer of your skin looking red and feeling sore.  UVB rays penetrate just the outer layer of your skin.  UVA rays are the "aging" rays which can penetrate deep into the layers of your skin and cause premature aging, contributing to wrinkles, irregular spots and skin cancer.  IR rays are the heat you feel.  IR rays come from the sun, but are also what you feel when you're sitting in front of a campfire.  As soon as someone moves in front of you, the heat is no longer felt.  The same is true of IR rays from the sun.  As soon as there's a barrier, they're no longer felt.

Two types of sunscreen exist - chemical and mineral.  Badger and many of the highly rated sunscreens on the EWG are mineral sunscreens.  The way that these work is that they form a PHYSICAL BARRIER on your skin to the sun's rays.  This is important, at least it was for me.  When you're using mineral sunscreens, the more white you are after application, the better it will work!  I remember being told - You have to rub it in!  Actually, that's the worst thing you can do with mineral sunscreens.  If you're all white and looking like a clown, that's when you'll be the most protected.  It's also why these types of sunscreen can leave you feeling greasy or oily.  They work by creating a physical barrier.  It also answers the quandary of why we experienced inconsistency in Badger over the holiday.  It was just rubbed in more or not applied thick enough on those who got a burn.  Oh, and mineral sunscreens work by reflecting the UVA and UVB rays.

Chemical sunscreens are actually absorbed by your skin.  This type follows the rule - You need to rub it in!  You also should wait a bit before going into the water after application to let it sink in.  Chemical sunscreens work by chemically reacting to the UVA and UVB rays (some chemical sunscreens only reflect UVB rays so pay attention to the label).  Because of the nature of chemical sunscreens, they break down over time and may need to be applied more frequently, especially when the sun is most intense.

A word about aerosol sunscreen.  Don't use it.  Period.  There are no aerosol sunscreens that get good reviews on EWG.  This is for a few reasons.  First, I realize that it's every parent's dream to not have to get oily sunscreen all over your hands but I'm here to tell you, it's a fact of life.  I'm sure you've been to the pool and have seen the cloud of sunscreen rising in the air before tots can jump in.  And it's not only landing on their skin, it's being inhaled - by them and everyone around.  Aerosol sunscreen is 100% chemical sunscreen and it's not safe to inhale.  At all.  By anyone.  Secondly, with aerosol sunscreen, it's really difficult to get it on evenly, without missing any spots or getting any spots too lightly.  You end up rubbing it in anyway.  So do yourself a favor, and check out the EWG site for a sunscreen that works and is safe for you and your child.

So what will we do while in Costa Rica?  Well, three things will be important for our skin success.  First, we all have hats and light, long-sleeve shirts.  Less direct exposure to the sun is the best option for our skin.  Secondly, we are bringing both a few bottles of Badger (mineral sunscreen) for those days when we're out at the beach or in the sun for long stretches.  We're also bringing a chemical sunscreen from Alba Botanicals that scored a decent score at EWG and was much cheaper than Badger.

Finally, sun is good for us and our skin!  It's good for our mood, our attitude and allows us to make Vitamin D.

Wishing you sunny days and safe skin this summer.

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