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Sunblock or Sunscreen. What’s the difference?

Photo? 5 kids on a beach raising their hands. Sunblock or Sunscreen What's the difference?We’re now deep into the typical North Texas summer with lots of sunshine, high temperatures, and no rain in sight. Sun protection is important all year long, but it’s crucial during this time of year. With so many sun protection products out there, are you confused about what the best options are for you and your family? At Hillcrest Medical, we’re here to help.

First, let’s look at the difference between sunscreen and sunblock. Sunblock contains inorganic ingredients like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that physically block both UVA and UVB rays. You won’t find an SPF (sun protection factor) listed on the bottle or tube because sunblock blocks all of the sun’s rays. The SPF rating is a measure of the percentage of sunburn-producing rays that reach the skin. If a product says “sunblock” on the label but includes an SPF rating, it is a combination of sunscreen and sunblock. Sunblock has a thick, opaque consistency that can make it hard to spread on the skin, and it often remains visible after it’s been applied.

Sunscreen contains chemicals like benophenones that absorb UVA radiation and cinnamates and salicylates that absorb UVB radiation. Not all sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for “broad spectrum” or “full spectrum” on the label for sunscreen that provides protection against both. Sunscreens can have an SPF of anywhere from 2 to 50. If you use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer without burning than you can without sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of at least 15 for most people. Those with fairer skin or those at a high risk of skin cancer should use a sunscreen with a higher SPF.

And be aware that when you apply several products with different levels of SPF, the sun protection factor does not increase with each product. For example, if you apply a foundation with an SPF of 15 and a sunscreen with an SPF of 30, the products together equal an SPF of 30, not 45. Sunscreen needs to be applied at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun, and the chemicals break down after several hours of exposure to sunlight, so they need to be reapplied—though there are some new sunscreens on the market that provide longer-lasting protection, so read the labels to find the one that’s right for you.

So, sunblock or sunscreen? Sunblock is a more natural, less irritating form of sun protection. If you want to stay away from irritating chemicals, sunblock is your best bet. It is also the surest way to protect your skin from all of the sun’s damaging rays. But if you want a product that spreads easily and disappears on the skin, choose a sunscreen or a sunscreen/sunblock combination.

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