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Sunblock and Sunscreen

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Lets Get Physical - Physical Sunblock, That Is!

Find the perfect suncreeen or tanning lotion online here. 

Sunblock comes in different formulas with different strengths and functions.

If you have traumatized, sensitive, or irritated skin, you may want to lean toward one popular variety called physical sunblock that is normally found to be formulated with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are best for children or anyone with sensitive skin because they both provide complete UVA and UVB protection and yet are gentle enough for everyday use in a variety of skin considerations.

The reason that physical sunblock is more gentle than chemical sunblock -- another prevalent variety -- is because they are physical blocking agents and not chemicals. Because of this, the chance of allergy is greatly reduced and there is much less chance of skin irritation.

Interestingly, zinc oxide is found in both chemical and physical sunblocks, and is extremely effective.
Another point to consider is that physical sunblocks do not get absorbed by the skin and the whitening effect familiar to sunblock is less likely to happen when using physical, rather than chemical, agents.

Chemical Reactions of the Sunblock Kind

A lot of those seeking sun protection prefer chemical sunblocks. Chemical sunblocks have the ability to be absorbed into the skin, which makes the sun's rays not have any impact the skin. It works very much like a force field against harmful UVA and UVB rays. This is in contrast to physical sunblocks, which will reflect the light before it reaches your skin.

There are some drawbacks to the chemical choice. Many are opaque, meaning they create a visible white film over the skin. This is not very aesthetically pleasing if you are hoping for a flirty day at the beach! They also tend to be greasier options, which can clog pores and be problematic for those with acne-prone or sensitive skin.

Chemical sunblocks generally take about thirty minutes to start working, so it's important to remember to apply the sunblock before you head out into the sun. If you wait till you are already on the beach, it could be too late, and burning may have already began.

Unlocking the Confusion of SPF

Sunscreens and sunblocks both protect your skin from the sun, yet in different ways and to various degrees. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a component you will see in both. All sunblocks and sunscreens have an SPF rating, which will reveal how long a sunscreen remains effective on the skin.

The user should then decide how long the sunblock will be effective by multiplying the SPF factor by the length of time it takes for her to suffer a burn without sunscreen. For instance, imagine a fair-skinned person who would normally turn red after 10 minutes in the sun. Ten minutes is her "initial burning time." If that person uses a sunscreen with SPF 2, it takes 20 minutes in the sun for her skin to turn red. Now, if she uses a sunscreen with SPF 15, it multiplies the initial burning time by 15, so it takes 150 minutes, or 2 and half hours, for her skin to turn red.

Note that not all SPFs were created equal. The level of protection you need is largely based on your skin's history and your own skin tone. Fair skin generally should use at least SPF 30, while darker skin will need less.

Note: Sunblock and sunscreen differ in the meaning of the SPF, as well. Both will have SPF factors that protect you from burning. But sunscreen will shield you from harmful effects while sunblock has powerful chemical and physical agents that are intended to block sun infiltration altogether.

Knowing the Terms

Sun tan lotion. Sunblock. Sunscreen. All these terms seem to be used interchangeably, but there has to be some distinction. Understanding which product is which is paramount to knowing what you need in your own medicine cabinet.

Generally, when someone refers to sun tan lotion, they may mean anything having to do with the sun. Generally, the term refers to a lotion used when going out in the sun. The lotions that help you have a sunless tan without involving the actual sun are called self-tanning lotions. Sunblock refers to ingredients that actually stop the sun's UVA and UVB rays from seeping through the skin's upper layers and damaging the underlying cells, either due to chemical or physical ingredients. The sun block scatters the rays, thus preventing penetration. Anything that can fulfill this task is a sunblock, however -- so technically your umbrella, clothing, and sun glasses are all sunblocks!

Sunscreen is not the same as sunblock; it refers to ingredients that do not prevent penetration but prevent the UV rays from damaging the living cells below the surface layers.

Generally though, any topical product that is sun-related seems by many to be put under the umbrella (pardon the pun) of sunblock...and that's a dangerous misconception. Read the labels carefully and then decide what product you actually need.

How Much Sunscreen Is Enough?

Experts remind us that sunscreen should be worn daily, not only when we know we will be out sunning. But how much should we apply? And where?

Maintaining the promised SPF worth on the bottle means using the correct amount in the right way. It is much like taking the right dosage of antibiotics at the appointed times. Ideally, you should use about 1 oz. of sunscreen per application each day (that's about a shot-glass size). If you use less, the SPF protection on your body will be less.

Remember, that's the necessity for day-to-day protection. If you will be out swimming or at the beach all day, you should use about a half of an 8 oz. bottle. Make sure to allow the ingredients enough time to bind to your skin, and also to reapply if you shower, swim, or sweat. You should be sure to continue this process every two hours, so you never lose that window of protection.

Note that all our parts can get burnt. Lips are very sensitive, so always wear a lip balm year round. Sunglasses should always be worn to avoid permanent sun damage to your eyes.

Sun Screens to Avoid

Not all sunscreens and sunblocks are created equal. And, in fact, just with any medicinal purchase, it's important to take note of the ingredients before adding any to your arsenal.

Some ingredients to avoid whenever possible are PABA, Parsol 1789, and Benzophenone.

PABA is an ingredient that many people seem to be sensitive too -- its application could result in itchy, irritated skin. Parsol 1789 can successfully save the skin from sun damage, however, when absorbed into the skin, it is excited by the sun energy and can become reactive. This may result in DNA damage. Benzophenone has been shown to disrupt hormone development in some cases. Note, though, that this same ingredient is seen in many fatty fishes that are deemed safe to eat, so it's a minor concern.

Many people use bug repellents with sunscreen as a powerful one-two punch. This is not a great idea, because it can result in overexposure to the DEET found in bug repellents, which can lead to headaches and nausea.

Biodegradable Sunscreen

Part of the green movement is a growing trend toward biodegradable sunscreens. These are sunscreens that, over time, will decompose naturally (with the help of bacteria).

The reasoning behind this is the knowledge that most sunscreens are complex compounds that can't break down in water. This can be harmful to natural marine habitats. In theory, it can also prevent sunlight from reaching these habitats -- which can obliterate them.

Natural sunscreens are soy- or petroleum-based, and seem to be more environmentally friendly without sacrificing any quality. If you are visiting certain environmentally sensitive areas, you may be required to use a biodegradable sunscreen in order to protect the area's sea life. Take this into consideration when planning your vacation shopping list. It's best though to keep a supply available in case this necessity arises.

Sunscreen and Vitamin D

There's an urban legend that the use of sunscreen or sunblock will prevent your body from absorbing necessary Vitamin D from the sun.

Vitamin D is a serious body requirement. It is responsible for healthy muscle development, as well as the ability to absorb calcium.

This is theoretically true, yet the damages caused by unprotected sun exposure are far worse than not getting that vitamin D. The amount of sun exposure necessary to get the vitamin is actually very minimal -- just a few minutes a day for a fair-skinned person is plenty. Vitamin D is also readily absorbed by eating dairy products. Most likely, you and your child get enough vitamin D by eating yogurt, drinking milk, and getting a little bit of sun exposure just by completing normal everyday actions.

Some claim that always wearing sunscreen is like creating a winter-like environment on the skin; but it's actually quite the contrary. Experts agree that the benefits of protecting skin from the aging and damaging effects of the sun is paramount to the few benefits that can easily be achieved by alternative means.

Advancement in Sunscreen

Did you think your options in sun protection were simply sunblock or sunscreen and what SPF to use?

There are many options available that may be able to personalize your decision even more. Waterproof and sweat proof varieties are becoming more and more popular and are especially enjoyed by those who spend a lot of time in the water or being active. Athletes often try to go for drier versions so that their grip is not at risk. And many companies are exploring inclusion of natural ingredients like aloe vera or vitamin E, which moisturize the skin further. This is an ideal choice for children or those with sensitive skin.

These options are getting even wider as scientists are discovering plants that have natural resistances to the sun, such as the single-cell algae. In the future this may possibly lead to even more eco-friendly sunblock options.

Sunscreen is not always enough

It's unrealistic to stay out of the sun. As healthy and happy human beings, we need to be a part of the outdoors. And when we are outside, sunscreen or sunblock is important. But, it can't be our entire effort to stay safe in the sun.

It's very important to wear breathable clothes, sunglasses, and a hat, whenever in prolonged sun exposure. A constant supply of water (8-10 glasses a day) is also very important. Furthermore, consider the time of day you are outside -- the sun is usually at its strongest by about mid-day, so if you find yourself outdoors at this time, up your SPF factor or reapply a little more frequently.

The FDA has yet to concur on a method of measuring how well sunscreens filter out UVA rays. While less powerful than UVB, UVA is also linked to skin cancer. Dermatologists say titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, methoxycinnamate, and avobenzone (or Parsol 1789, but that is risky in its own right) stop UVA -- so check for sunscreens or sunblocks that have these ingredients in order to maximize your protection. Err toward sunblock whenever you have any doubt you are not getting enough sun shielding.

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