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Suntan Lotion or a Sunscreen with a Broader Spectrum?

What should you choose: a suntan lotion or a stronger sunscreen? Flo explains various sun protection products and how to use them.

Suntan lotion helps you achieve tanned skin. The main function of suntan lotion is to speed up the tanning process. Most suntan lotions do not provide protection from the sun, but certain brands claim to provide sun protection while also using the term suntan lotion.

Sunscreen that contains a sun protection factor (SPF) of less than 15 is called a suntan lotion. These tanning lotions, which usually have an SPF between 4 and 8, don’t provide enough sun protection and aren’t safe to use as a sunscreen. Dark tanning oils typically don’t contain sunscreen ingredients, and they may even contain a substance that accelerates tanning.

Some people use suntan lotion for indoor tanning. Suntan lotion for sunless tanning (such as airbrush and spray tans) typically contains a bronzer to darken your skin, aloe vera, and vitamin E. Most suntanning lotions don’t provide good protection from the sun.

Sunscreen is a skincare product that protects your skin from the harmful rays of the sun. The sun’s rays consist of two kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays that are harmful to your skin: UVA and UVB. A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin from both of these types of rays.

UVA rays can age the skin prematurely, causing age spots and wrinkling. UVB rays can burn the skin. Excessive exposure to UVB or UVA rays can cause skin cancer. Sunscreen that protects you from both types of UV rays is best.

SPF measures how well the sunscreen protects your skin against UVB rays (no rating is given to UVA protection). Skincare experts calculate SPF based on how long it takes for the sun’s rays to burn skin with the sunscreen on compared to skin without any sunscreen.

According to skincare experts, you should use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. SPF 15 is okay for occasional exposure to the sun, such as while driving to the office or walking your dog. A product with SPF 30 or more is essential for outdoor activities such as gardening, swimming, sports, and running. Sunscreens with an SPF of 50 or higher give only a small increase in protection from UV rays. Moreover, sunscreen with higher SPFs lasts just as long as the lower SPF sunscreens.

There are two types of ingredients in sunscreen that protect you from the sun:

  • Chemical ingredients (for example, salicylates, benzophenones, and cinnamates) absorb UV rays and convert them to heat. 
  • Physical ingredients (such as zinc oxide and titanium oxide) reflect and scatter UV rays. Products with physical materials are also called mineral sunscreen, and they may cause less irritation to your skin.

Using sunscreen provides the following benefits:

  • It reduces the risk of precancer and cancer of the skin. Using a daily sunscreen with at least SPF 15 may decrease your risk of melanoma by about 50 percent and squamous cell cancer by around 40 percent.
  • It helps prevent premature aging of the skin from sun exposure, such as age spots, sagging, and wrinkles.

Most people don’t use enough sunscreen. As a general guideline, adults should aim for the following amounts:

  • Two teaspoons of sunscreen on your arms, neck, and face
  • Two tablespoons of sunscreen for your whole body if you’re wearing a bathing suit

Applying only a thin layer of sunscreen reduces the protection it provides from the sun’s rays.

  • Apply a generous amount of sunscreen every day about 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun so that the sunscreen can bind to your skin. Reapply every two hours if you are in the sun.
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin and anywhere that will be exposed to the sun, including your neck, ears, top of the head, and tops of your feet. Apply lipstick or lip balm with at least SPF 30.
  • Since ultraviolet rays can travel through the clouds, you should apply sunscreen even on cloudy days.
  • A water-resistant sunscreen will be effective for about 40 minutes while you are in the water. Very water-resistant sunscreen will remain for about 80 minutes while you are in the water. If you’re swimming or doing intense exercise, all sunscreens will run or be sweat off eventually. You should reapply sunscreen immediately after excessive sweating (after a workout) or swimming.

Sunscreen is available in different product types for various applications:

  • Creams — If your skin is dry, you may want to use a cream, particularly on the face.
  • Lotions — Some people prefer lotions for larger areas.
  • Gels — Gels are great for hairy regions such as the scalp.
  • Sticks — Sticks are useful when applying sunscreen around your eyes.
  • Sprays — Sprays are convenient for applying sunscreen on children. Spray a liberal amount of the product and get an even coating. Avoid spraying it near the mouth or face.

A sunscreen product with an SPF of less than 15 is known as suntan lotion. Suntan lotions aren’t safe to use as a sunscreen. Sunscreen protects you from the harmful rays of the sun (both UVA and UVB rays). You should apply sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 30 whenever you’ll be outside, no matter the time of year or weather.

1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/best-sunscreen/art-20045110

2. https://www.verywellhealth.com/suntan-lotion-versus-sunscreen-2634306

3. https://tanninglotion.wpengine.com/suntan-lotion-vs-sunscreen/

4. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/sunscreen-and-sun-safety/

5. https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-prevention/sun-protection/sunscreen/

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