sunscreen sunblock

Anywhere there’s UVA and UVB rays, there’s a need for sunblock, even beneath the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland (pictured here). Let’s hope this guy applied an ample coat to his entire body, particularly the nether-region… Photo: @colingillenphotos

Paddle Healthy || Sunblock Safety || Presented by SPZ

The first installment of our three-part skin protection series

Sunscreen: kids typically can't stand the stuff, and your wallet doesn't usually take too kindly to the 'legitimate' brands backed by leading dermatologists. But, sporting sunblock isn't an option for us paddle people; it's a necessity. So, with sunny summer weather approaching, and the increasing number of skin cancer cases, we're taking a look at skin protection from sunscreen and sharing some valuable information on what's known to work when it comes to warding off those harmful—and sometimes deadly—ultraviolet (UV) rays.

Not all sunscreen is created equal. When shopping for sunscreens, you should know that the FDA only regulates three of many claims strewn across sunscreen labels: broad spectrum, water resistance, and, of course, SPF. Any other claims or promises printed on sunscreen labels are suspect. When picking out sunscreen, look for ones that say “broad spectrum” because they protect against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. While it isn't determined exactly how much these sunblocks protect against UVA rays, you do want a sunblock that provides protection for both UVA and UVB rays because they have different effects on the skin.

UVA rays are long waves, which means they deeply penetrate the skin. UVA rays are responsible for tanning and skin-aging, and, they contribute to skin cancers including the deadliest form, melanoma.

UVB rays have more sudden effects on the skin, causing sunburn and reddening. Although they only penetrate the skin superficially, they still cause damage that can lead to skin cancer. As paddlers, UVB rays are especially threatening to paddlers because they can cause nearly twice the amount of damage as UVAs, as they're reflective up to a whopping 80 percent when hitting surfaces including water, ice, and snow.

When it comes to shopping for sunblock, beyond looking for ones labeled broad spectrum, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends ones with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. SPF 15 means that, on average, it would take one's skin fifteen times longer to burn if wearing the product, and that it screens 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, whereas SPF 30 protects against 97 percent and SPF 50 protects against 98 percent.

The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests applying two tablespoons (1 oz.) of sunscreen on exposed skin ten minutes prior to sun exposure. For extended protection, choose a water-resistant sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapplication is suggested every two hours, or immediately after excessive sweating or contact with water.

Another thing to look for in a sunblock is a physical block, meaning the product is not absorbed by the skin (unlike the other type, a chemical block). Physical block sunscreens are non-irritating and non-allergenic, and include ones with nonorganic compounds like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

One problem with physical blocks is that they're opaque. If you're not okay with white or colored sunscreen smeared across your bod, the other option is a chemical block. Dermatologists recommend ones that include the chemical ingredient avobenzone, however, our research has shown that its safety and side effects aren't completely known yet. So, as always, take our suggestions, but be sure to consult your physician to learn what's best for you and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. —Shari Coble

Stay tuned to Paddle Healthy for Part Two of Paddlers' Skin Protection Series, focusing on foods that promote skin protection.