Sunblock was so 7 years ago!
Although the words sunblock and sunscreen are often used interchangeably, the term "sunblock" was actually banned by the FDA in 2011.
If we really think about it, sunblock is definitely a false claim since no sunscreen completely blocks UV radiation. Sunscreen manufacturers have since been forced to modify the language they use on their sunscreen bottles, which is a good thing as it gives consumers more realistic expectations of their product's effectiveness.
But, where did the phrase sunblock come from in the first place? Technically, the distinguishing factors were the ingredients...mineral based products being sunblock and chemical based products being sunscreen.
What do they really mean?
If my sunscreen bottle says that it prevents sunburn, doesn't that mean that it prevents skin cancer too? We're afraid not. A change in pigmentation (regardless of a burn or tan) is always a sign that the skin is reacting to potentially damaging UV radiation.
- Water resistant, not waterpoof. Under FDA's new guidelines, sunscreen bottles can also no longer claim to be waterpoof since sunscreens are only water resistant for a certain length of time. This means that the level of SPF mentioned on the bottle is no longer effective after the specified amount of time has passed.
- Speaking of SPF...we buy an SPF 30+ sunscreen because that's what we've been taught to do, but what does it actually mean? SPF stands for 'sun protection factor' and determines the percentage of UVB rays that it protects against. For example, an SPF 30 sunscreen protects you from 97 percent of UVB rays (the rays that cause sunburn). However, an SPF 50 sunscreen only protects you from 1% more UVB rays than an SPF 30 does so, moral of the story, no sunscreen protects you from 100% of UVB rays.
- Does it say Broad Spectrum? We know SPF protects against those UVB rays that cause sunburn, but we often forget about those UVA rays that cause skin damage/wrinkles. Broad Spectrum sunscreens contain ingredients that protect from both.
- Reapply, reapply, reapply. Regardless, it is so important that you apply sunscreen 30 minutes before exposure and then reapply every 2 hours (depending on what your sunscreen recommends) to maximize effectiveness.
What's actually inside?
Let's start with your most common, chemical based sunscreens typically found in grocery stores and pharmacies (often transparent and spray-on). Typically using a combination of UVB and UVA absorbing chemicals, these sunscreens produce a film on the skin to reduce UV penetration. These products take approximately 20 minutes to begin working and should be generously reapplied every 1.5 to 2 hours to maximize effectiveness.
Now for the mineral based sunscreens, which are sometimes not so transparent. With natural ingredients like zinc oxide, this sunscreen sits on the skin as it works to reflect sun rays and can sometimes appear as a white layer on the skin. Similar to chemical sunscreens, they should be reapplied as directed on the bottle to ensure effectiveness. Mineral based sunscreens are commonly recommended by dermatologists because they are often friendlier to sensitive skin.
As valuable as all of this information truly is, please remember...
All SPF 30+ Broad Spectrum sunscreens are better than no sunscreen!