Sunscreen or Sunblock, that is the question?


sunscreenAs the temperatures soar and classes end for the season, the thoughts of kids and adults alike naturally turn to the great outdoors. From time spent by the pool to trips to the beach or a day at the park, there’s just something exciting about spending time in the summer sun. That same life-giving force, however, can cause very real skin damage and even increase the likelihood of skin cancer if it’s not properly mitigated.

There are scads of products on the market that claim to block the sun’s harmful rays, but the labels and claims can be misleading.

One source of confusion is the interchangeable use of the terms “sunscreen” and “sunblock.” In all actuality, these two products are quite different from one another.

What is Sunscreen?

If the product you’re using comes in a bottle with an SPF rating and is similar to a lotion in consistency, it’s a sunscreen product. That means that the product is designed to filter ultraviolet rays from the sun, keeping most of them away from your child’s skin but allowing some to penetrate. They typically contain chemical ingredients like PABA, which is a known allergen and can be irritating to the sensitive skin of some kids and adults. The American Academy of Dermatologists suggests that everyone use a sunscreen with an SPF level of at least 30 as an everyday precaution against skin damage, with higher levels recommended for fair skinned individuals that are more prone to sunburns. Scientifically speaking, sunscreens are referred to as “chemical barriers,” as they contain ingredients that filter rays, but don’t block them from reaching the skin.

What is Sunblock?

If you’ve ever seen someone at the beach with a smear of thick, opaque cream across their nose, you’ve seen sunblock. These products are typically comprised of titanium oxide or zinc oxide, and are designed to physically block the sun from contacting the covered area of skin at all. The thick consistency makes the coverage more durable and the opaque color makes it easy to spot areas that have worn thin.

Sunblock offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays, and is highly recommended for those that have an unusually high sensitivity to ultraviolet rays. Also called “physical barriers,” sunblock products actively obstruct the sun and prevent it from reaching the skin to cause damage.

Which Product is Right for Me?

As long as the product that you’re using provides adequate protection against the sun and offers, at a minimum, an SPF level of 30, the choice is ultimately a matter of preference. Sunblock provides greater protection, but its thick consistency can make it difficult to spread evenly and it is quite visible. Sunscreen, on the other hand, is typically invisible and does provide adequate protection when the correct SPF level is used, but its invisibility can make the need for reapplication less than obvious until a burn is already causing discomfort.

Sunscreen also does not offer the broad-spectrum protection that physical sunblock products do, but is easier to apply and is readily available in water resistant formulas. Even sunscreen products that are marketed as “waterproof” should be reapplied after swimming or sweating heavily, though. Keep in mind that sunblock products don’t have an SPF level printed on the label because they’re not measured with SPF units, but that doesn’t mean that they’re ineffective. They are actually considered to be more effective when properly used, which can make them an ideal choice for those that burn easily and are fair skinned.

Thanks to Carrie Dotson @ Summer Nanny Jobs


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