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What's the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

As the summer sun beats down on your formerly stay-at-home skin, you want to be proactive and decrease the chances of your skin turning into something that resembles an old baseball mitt. The sun’s rays are no joke, and a painful sunburn is not only aesthetically displeasing. Sun damage can lead to premature skin aging or skin cancer, so before you hit the beach or even chill in your own backyard and barbecue, know that skin protection is a must-do.

That said, when you walk down the aisle of your local pharmacy or search online, the sun protection products are plentiful. If you’re confused, you’re not alone, but it’s not as complicated as it seems.

First and foremost, you want to find a product that’s going to save your skin, be it a sunscreen or a sunblock. 

But what’s the difference? Is there one? You bet there is, and here’s the simplest way to know what’s what.

The Skinny On Sunscreen

A sunscreen product is what you’re most likely looking for to slather on before you head out for a day in the sun. As a chemical defense against the sun’s ultraviolet rays (UV rays), the product goes onto the skin, absorbing these rays to protect you from damage. 

Chemical sunscreens contain hard-to-pronounce active ingredients like oxybenzone, avobenzone, and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). 

What you want to look for is a sunscreen with a high SPF (sun protection factor) number, at least SPF 30, to get the most out of each application. A water-resistant formula is also a good idea, especially if you intend to swim or sweat. A broad spectrum formula means you’ll be safer from both UVA and UVB rays, so seek out this style when shopping. 

So What’s Sunblock?

Unlike sunscreen, sunblock (sometimes known as mineral sunscreen) doesn’t absorb the rays, but actually blocks them from ever reaching the skin. Have you ever seen a lifeguard with a thick white stripe down his nose? It was probably zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

So why doesn’t everyone just use sunblock? Doesn’t it seem stronger? In fact, it does protect better, but the wearability isn’t as user-friendly. It won’t disappear when applied to the skin, so you’ll look like you rolled in Elmer’s glue before hitting the beach. If you need a sunblock application in a few key spots, that’s the way to do it. 

Baywatch wouldn’t be nearly as alluring with the main characters covered in thick white paste. That said, with the golden tans the cast sported, it didn’t seem like they were too concerned with sun protection to begin with. 

Be Smart With Your Skin

Every person’s skin is unique, so the sun protection for your skin type may not be the same as your friend or family member. Those with super fair skin or sensitive skin may require a higher SPF. Additionally, certain ingredients may cause irritation or sensitivity. Talk to a dermatologist for advice if you find that your chosen selection is subpar. 

Those with darker skin tones still need sun protection. We’re all susceptible to sun damage, and skin cancer isn’t anything to take lightly. Your skincare is essential. 

There are lotions, sprays, creams, etc., as well as oil-free formulas and unscented types. The prices range from reasonable to ridiculous, so remember that some affordable brands are just as effective as high-end products. Do your homework, ask the pharmacist, and compare items yourself if you’re curious to find the best sunscreen or sunblock for your needs.

Be sure to apply your sunscreen or sunblock before you’re outside. Even a few moments of exposure can be enough to cause a burn. Reapply every few hours or if you’re particularly sweaty or have gone for a swim.

 If you missed a few spots and have a burn, treat it at home with aloe or moisturizer. If there is severe peeling or blistering, see a dermatologist pronto, and stay out of the sun.

Have fun outdoors, just be safe when it comes to skin protection. You don’t need a suntan to be sexy. A sunbum is bound to get burned.

Stay fresh, DUDE!

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