Category Archives: Health and Wellness

How to Exercise When the Pollen Count is High

If you are one of the many people who loves staying active outdoors, but you suffer from seasonal allergies, then you may find yourself becoming a lot more sedentary when spring arrives. Skipping out on these activities may help keep your allergies under control but becoming a “couch potato” is not the answer. Keep active by staying informed, changing your routine, and utilizing these strategies that will keep your body in motion and your energy at peak.

Track the Count
First you need to keep track of the pollen counts in your area. If you know which allergens you are sensitive to, that is even better. Many local news stations will tell you whether weed, tree, or grass pollens are expected to be higher than usual, and this can help you prepare. Another fast way to check pollen counts is online. Websites, such as the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology keep national pollen counts. You can check your local counts by clicking here.

Keep Your Eye on the Clock
Typically pollen counts will begin to rise in the morning and peak at midday, gradually falling toward evening. Generally, the lowest pollen count will be early in the morning before sunrise and late in the afternoon to early evening. However, if the pollen count is very high or if it is a windy day, pollen counts may remain elevated longer than usual. It is also normal in urban areas for the counts to peak and fall later than in the suburbs. Try to schedule your exercise to avoid the peak times of high pollen counts. The best time to get out is right after a good rainfall which washes a lot of the pollen out of the air and greatly reduces the pollen count.

Break out the Barriers
While outside, sunglasses can help protect your eyes not only from the sun, but also from pollen. Dab some Vaseline® around the edge of each of your nostrils before going out. This helps block pollen but be sure to reapply if you blow your nose. Covering your nose and mouth with a mask will really help minimize your inhalation of pollen when counts are high.

Choose an Alternative to Exercising Outdoors
If you usually exercise outside, consider trying a different venue for high pollen count days. There are many exciting and enjoyable opportunities such as indoor mountain climbing, indoor skiing, and even indoor sky diving.
A little less extreme option, but one that is easy and inexpensive is heading to a local indoor pool. Did you know that exercising in water is a great way to strengthen muscles? Water offers natural resistance that provides a more intense workout and increases the benefits of strengthening and toning. Even if you are not a swimmer, just walking, doing water aerobics, or dancing in the water offers great benefits. Many gyms and YMCAs offer the use of pools among their amenities for members, and city pools usually have a low entry fee for city residents.

In addition, Dr. Jay M. Portnoy, Division Director of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology at Children’s Mercy Hospitals in Kansas City says, “Allergies trigger asthma, making it much more difficult to exercise. It’s recommended that people with asthma take up swimming as an aerobic activity. The reason exercise makes asthma worse is because the airways dry out and get cold when you’re breathing fast. If you’re swimming instead of running outdoors, then there’s more moisture and warmth so you’re less likely to have trouble breathing.” Going to an indoor pool is a great way to avoid that pollen without skipping your exercise.

If walking or running is your thing, think “inside” the box. Many cities now have totally enclosed walking paths stretching for miles that can be an excellent way to get your exercise without subjecting yourself to pollen. If your city does not have an enclosed skywalk or underground pedestrian system, check with your local parks and recreation department as well as local fitness centers to see if there is an indoor walking track available. If not, consider walking through an indoor shopping mall or museum. Some cities have large airports that are fun to walk through as well.

Perhaps you prefer to avoid going outside altogether during pollen season. You can still get some great exercise right at home. If you own a treadmill or stationary bike, that would be an obvious first choice. However, for those of you who do not own any exercise equipment, why not try an exercise video? You can rent them at the library or find them available online. Amazon Prime and YouTube both have many fitness workout videos available for different fitness levels.

Whatever option you choose, it will definitely be better than skipping your exercise entirely. Track the pollen counts, strategize your timing, use barriers, and consider alternative venues for your exercise. You can avoid the pollen and still find different fun ways to stay fit!

 

Finding the Right Work-Life Balance

If you feel like you are working more hours than ever before, you are in good company. The American workforce has seen many changes over the past century, and a drastic change just in the past 40 years. In 1960, according to the Center for American Progress, “only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” As the only industrialized nation in the world without a mandatory option for new parents to enjoy paid parental leave benefits, many feel the work-life balance in our country has been thrown askew.

It is difficult to take time off for vacations or even if you aren’t feeling 100% well when faced with the prospect that your boss might think you’re not committed enough to your organization or may overlook you when it’s time for the next big promotion in favor of someone who wasn’t absent as much. While it’s obviously important to avoid unnecessary call-ins (sick), we all need some time to relax and get away from our jobs on a regular basis. The weekends just aren’t enough.

In fact, many of us don’t have weekends at all. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 33% of salary-employed people spent some time working on weekends—with an average of 5.53 hours worked on a weekend day. Those holding multiple jobs and self-employed people were more likely to work on weekends than those with only one job or those employed by others.

According to the International Labor Organization, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” When it comes to our global competitors, we are also working longer days, taking fewer vacations, and waiting longer to retire. But, before you pack up and relocate to France, allow us to present some strategies to help improve your work-life balance.

1. Leave your job at work:
While work is essential to provide for the basics in life such as your home, car, and paying the bills, it should never be a higher priority than your health and happiness. When you spend eight hours a day at your job, it becomes a large part of your life, and it’s vital that you are “working to live and not living to work.”

When you leave, really leave! Resist the urge to check work emails and texts after work hours unless there is absolutely some critical matter that you know you may need to attend to. (Hint: such a “critical” matter is not going to pop up often.) Try to get your work finished before heading out so that when you get home you can truly be present in the moment and not trying to finish up tidbits from your job that distract you from the people and things that you enjoy.

2. Put a priority on hobbies and activities that you enjoy:
Ask yourself what you would spend your time doing if you didn’t have to work. Unless that involves sipping Mai Tais on a Caribbean beach, or exploring some other distant locale, find time around your work day that you can start regularly participating in those activities on a consistent basis. Make a point of scheduling time for this pursuit on your day planner and strictly enforcing that you take that time for yourself to enjoy.

3. Keep the importance of family in perspective:
A wise word from Heather Monahan, founder of #BossinHeels, a career mentoring group, “Realize that no one at your company is going to love you or appreciate you the way your loved ones do. Remember also that everyone from work is replaceable,  and no matter how important you think your job is, the company will not miss a beat tomorrow if you are gone.” This is a great reminder that work should not take precedence over family. Don’t kid yourself into believing that you’ll always have time later to spend with them, because before you know it, the time is gone and the people you wish you had spent time with may have grown up or grown away from you.

4. During the work day, take a few minutes when you can close your eyes and think about something that brings you joy. Or, take those minutes to look at pictures of places and people (or pets) you love. Just taking a brief mental break from work, not talking to colleagues or reading work-related emails and memos, even for a short period of time, can refresh you and help bring balance to your work-life relationship.

5. Get outside. Nothing can soothe the soul like spending some time in nature. If you have any hiking trails nearby that will allow you to get into the woods, then seek them out. Walking in a wooded environment will provide you the sights, sounds, and scents of nature that are so lacking in our busy lives.

There is a new theory that some people suffer from “nature-deficit disorder.” While this may not be a formal diagnosis, Richard Louv so aptly used it in his book (Last Child in the Woods) to describe a growing problem in our country in which humans who are deprived of nature seem to be suffering psychological, physical, and cognitive damage as a result. Allow yourself some time in a natural setting to breathe deeply and relax, totally separate yourself from your workplace, and let your mind wander to the beauty around you. If you make time to do this every week, chances are you will begin to notice a greater sense of balance in every aspect of your life.

What Does Extra Weight Do To Your Heart?

With Valentine’s Day this month, many are thinking about their sweethearts and what to get them to show their love: candy, flowers, jewelry, etc., but February is also National Hearth Month, and we should give an equal, if not greater, amount of attention to our physical hearts and what we can do to keep them healthy—that would be an important gift to give to your significant other.

What Does Extra Weight Do To Your Heart?

Have you thought about how your heart could be impacted by carrying around extra weight? According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than 93 million adults in the US were classified as obese in 2015-2016. A person with a Body Mass Index of 25-29 is considered overweight, but an obese person has a BMI of 30 or greater. Morbid obesity is one with a BMI of 40 or greater. Below is a table  from the CDC that will help you to see what that means in terms of actual weight, using a 5’9” tall person as an example.

Height Weight Range BMI Considered
5′ 9″ 124 lbs or less Below 18.5 Underweight
125 lbs to 168 lbs 18.5 to 24.9 Healthy weight
169 lbs to 202 lbs 25.0 to 29.9 Overweight
203 lbs or more 30 or higher Obese
271 lbs or more 40 or higher Class 3 Obese

We want to help you keep your heart healthy, so with that in mind, have you thought about how your heart could be impacted by carrying around extra weight? When your body is larger, you force your heart to work harder to carry blood throughout your body. This can lead to high blood pressure, which over time, can enlarge your heart or cause it to weaken, and can contribute to heart failure. Another potential effect is narrowing of blood vessels throughout your body, which can cause a stroke, heart attack, or kidney failure.

You probably acknowledge that being overweight can lead to problems with your health, but did you know that just making small changes in your weight can lead to big changes in your heart’s overall function? Heart disease is one of several risk factors of carrying extra weight, but dropping just 5 to 10 percent of your weight can lower that risk.

For Valentine’s Day this year, give your sweetheart the best present you can possibly give—a healthier you. Start with small changes to your diet and physical activity level:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator or look for a parking spot at the end of the lot instead of the closest one you can find.
  • Instead of sitting all day at work, make it a habit to get up and move at least every hour. There are also desks that are available which, with a push button, will raise up for standing or down for sitting. Stand at least part of the time when working.
  • Park at the end of your driveway to force yourself to carry more loads from your car to your house when bringing groceries in.

It’s little changes like this that might not seem like much but which can have an impact when you do them frequently.  Also, imagine how much less frustrating it will be when you aren’t searching for that “good spot” at the store. You’ll feel less stress and maybe even a little pride as you hoof it past all the disgruntled drivers who are vying for that premium parking spot.

Speaking of the store, make a shopping list before you go in. This reduces the chances of impulse buying and picking up junk foods that will work against you. Make healthy food choices a priority. If your kitchen is stocked with healthy snacks and foods that are in line with your goals, it will make your efforts much easier.

Try to eat small healthy snacks frequently. When you wait too long to eat, your appetite increases, and you are more likely to overindulge when you finally do eat. Also, going too long between meals can slow your metabolism—working against you.

By cutting out just 500-1,000 calories each day, you can lose around 1 to 2 pounds per week. Try replacing that bag of chips with carrot sticks and hummus or a salad. Eat a cup of yogurt instead of a scoop of ice cream. Simple replacements will still satisfy your hunger and keep you on track to a reasonable weight loss goal.

Losing weight doesn’t have to be difficult or painful. By making small, simple changes consistently and dedicating yourself to continuing these little transformations, you will find that before you know it, you have made a significant transformation in your health.

We wish you a very happy Heart’s Day!

Part 2: Best Resolutions and Best of Intentions, but Losing a Little Steam?

In part 1 of this article, we talked about a list of resolutions that are nearly universal in the tradition of annual rebirth and revitalization which include lose weight, spend less, learn more, or do something to better your life in some way. In the second part, we want to discuss HOW you can stick to the promises that you made to yourself!

The key is to make sure you are setting realistic goals that you can reach. Many people set the bar too high or make their goal too vague. For example, rather than establishing a normal healthy weight loss goal such as losing one pound per week, a person might proclaim that they are going to lose 50 pounds without really laying out a plan for the appropriate time frame in which they will accomplish this goal. This can lead to a sense of defeat if he/she doesn’t see rapid weight loss.

And whether it’s weight loss, controlling our spending, getting better grades in school, or asking for a promotion at work, our resolutions always take us out of our comfort zones. With that in mind, it’s vital that we set smaller and very precise goals for ourselves—goals that will be easier to reach and help us build our confidence in our ability to succeed.

Start Small, Finish Big.

As you attain these smaller goals, your satisfaction will soar. Nothing helps me put that truffle back in the box like remembering that the last time I stepped on the scale, I was five pounds lighter, and I liked that. Celebrating each small success makes it easier to keep going. Before you know it, you will have reached your goal.

Many people find it helpful to track their progress in writing. You can look back on your journey later and really appreciate the work you put in. Sometimes, reading back over it and recalling the struggle is all it takes to find the motivation to keep going. And who knows, you may use your story later to inspire others facing the same challenges.

It is also important to put a number on it. Instead of just some vague goal like losing weight, set an attainable goal that will be easy to reach like one pound per week for four weeks. That may seem like a small amount, but according to the CDC, people who lose their weight slowly and steadily are much more likely to keep it off because true healthy weight loss is not going to come from a temporary diet, but from adopting a new lifestyle long-term. And, the CDC also says that 1 to 2 pounds per week is an ideal goal. To lose one pound per week, you would need to burn off 500 more calories than you consume on a daily basis (500 calories x 7 days = 3,500 calories).

If your goal is to “spend less money,” make this goal less ambiguous by budgeting exactly what money you will spend and where it will go. Make use of a budgeting app like Mint or PocketGuard. You can also just plot it out on a spreadsheet. Whatever method you prefer, by tracking how you spend, it becomes much easier to see where you may be wasting money on things you don’t really need. That is how you start. Once you can highlight the less important recipients of your hard-earned cash, you can figure out how much money could potentially be saved by cutting those things out of the budget.

The key is to take baby steps. Make small changes initially, like opting to brew a cup of coffee for yourself in the morning at home rather than spending $4 at Starbucks every day. Whatever your vice, chances are that you can see big changes in your pocket at the end of the month once you start taking a closer look at your spending trends and making conscious efforts to peel back a little bit at a time.

Remember, write it down, take baby steps, and make sure you know exactly where your target is before you shoot the arrow. With sensible small goals, structured plans for accomplishing them, and a willingness to accept that you just might make a few blunders along the road to victory but that doesn’t mean you give up, the group of people celebrating success this year will probably include YOU. Go do it!

 

Part 1: Best Resolutions and Best of Intentions, but Losing a Little Steam?

Chances are pretty good that like over 40% of other Americans, with the dawn of 2019, you resolved to lose weight, spend less, learn more, or do something to better your life in some way. This list of resolutions is a nearly universal tradition of annual rebirth and revitalization. Sounds good, but how’s that working for you?

By now, for many of us, our gusto has turned to dust-o. When that alarm beeps at 5 am to remind us it’s time to go running, the bed feels a little warmer and more comfortable than it ever has before. Did you swear off chocolates but then, after realizing you just popped your third truffle into your mouth, decided that it’s too late to turn back and “to heck with those resolutions”? Just finish the box? No way! Come on, you can do this. Everyone is entitled to a mistake or two. Enjoy that truffle; don’t beat yourself up over it, but don’t feel the need to finish off the box. If you fall down, get up and keep going!

So, how do we go about maintaining the excitement and zeal to hold fast to our well- intentioned resolutions? Do many people really make it through to the end of the challenge and succeed, or do most of us just make the resolutions for fun and never really bother with it for very long? Sadly, about 80% of people fail in their resolve by the second week in February, according to U.S. News & World Report.

What is the reason for making our resolutions on New Year’s anyway? When did this whole idea start and why? As it turns out, ancient Babylonians and Romans seem to have started the tradition by making promises to their gods about trying to be better people by returning items they had borrowed and repaying people to whom they owed money. The early medieval knights vowed to remain chivalrous while Christians sought forgiveness through prayer and made resolutions about living more holy lives.

The tradition of making New Year’s resolutions still has a place in current religious practice, not only remaining a practice among many Christians, but also during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which finds its faithful reflecting upon their actions over the previous year and seeking forgiveness for their sins.

The tradition is very much rooted in religious beliefs and has been sustained through the ages as humans forever aspire to be better than they are. It is a noble desire, and each year, there are always those who do find success in reaching their goals. Do not fool yourself into thinking that just because many people give up, it is an unworthy goal or a waste of time or effort. On the contrary, if you do it right from the very start, you’ve got this. And the cliché that anything worth having is worth fighting for, well, that is a life truth.

So, what does it take to keep the flame burning and not giving up on those promises we make to ourselves? We’ll dive into that in part 2 of this article!

November is National Diabetes Awareness Month

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than 30.3 million people in the US have diabetes (that is 9.4% of the US population). And 7.2 million people may be undiagnosed. The count is rising every year.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes  is a chronic disease that affects how your body turns food into energy. The insulin hormone, which is made by the pancreas, helps the body turn blood sugar into energy. Blood sugar levels are a measure of how well a person’s body uses glucose. A diabetic person has high blood sugar (glucose) when his/her body does not produce enough insulin or because his/her body cells do not respond adequately to insulin, or both.

How are diabetics classified?

Type 1 – The body does not make insulin. It can appear at any age but is usually  diagnosed in children and young adults. Their bodies do not make insulin,  and they must take it to stay alive.

Type 2 –  The body does not make enough insulin or use it well. One can develop type 2 diabetes at any age, but it most often occurs in middle-aged to older people. This is the most common type of diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes – This diabetes type develops in some pregnant women but usually  goes away when the baby is born.  About 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Risks for developing diabetes

A person’s risk for developing diabetes depends upon a number of factors, some of which can be controlled and some (age, family history, ethnicity) which cannot.

Some of the risk factors that can be controlled are these:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having high blood pressure
  • Having a low level of  HDL (good) cholesterol, or a high level of triglycerides
  • Being physically inactive
  • Having a history of heart disease or stroke
  • Having a history of gestational diabetes

Getting an A1C test (sometimes called the hemoglobin A1C) at your next physical will indicate whether you have diabetes or are at risk for developing it. The higher your A1C levels, the greater your risk of diabetes complications. With an A1C level over 6.5 percent, type 2 diabetes is indicated.

Tips to Avoid Gaining Weight After You Stop Smoking

Do you plan to participate in the Great American Smokeout this month (Nov. 15) and kick the nasty habit once and for all?

You can do it!

We all know that smoking is an addiction which produces withdrawal symptoms when stopped. But did you know that the  physical withdrawal symptoms last only a few days to about a week. After that, it is the psychological symptoms (cravings) that are the most difficult to overcome. But cravings will lessen the longer you resist the urge to smoke until finally, you find that you really have quit smoking.

Some people say they smoke because it helps to keep them from gaining weight, and experts have said that it is common for people to gain some weight when they give up the habit permanently. Since smoking increases metabolism, quitting causes your metabolism to slow slightly; however, most smokers gain less than 10 pounds.

For those who gain more weight, it is likely that they use food (especially sweets and high-caloric foods) to help curb nicotine cravings.

Here are four tips to help keep you from gaining weight after stopping smoking:

1. Plan for healthy eating before you quit smoking.

Stock your kitchen with healthy food choices so when the urge to snack hits, you will have them within easy reach. You may start to crave sweets after you quit (your sense of taste and smell improve)—and satisfying these cravings can prevent you from reaching for a cigarette. Just make sure the sweets you eat are not calorie-laden, sugary treats. (Fruits like grapes, strawberries, sugar-free candy and gum are acceptable substitutes).

2. Substitute the cigarette in your hand with something else.

Your body and brain are accustomed to the pattern of constantly putting your hand to your mouth when smoking, so replace the smoking pattern with an alternative. According to the AHA (American Heart Association), eating a food like air-popped popcorn will take time to eat, keep your hands busy, reduce the urge to smoke, and help you to feel full. (Five cups of air-popped popcorn has only 150 calories.)

3. Drink lots of water. It not only keeps your body hydrated, but also fills you up and lessens the desire to snack.

4. Amp up the exercise! If you are sedentary, adding exercise or increasing the exercise you already do will increase your metabolism. Walking and extra 30-45 minutes a day can make up for the metabolism slow-down from quitting smoking and keep your weight stable.

Smoking releases thousands of toxic chemicals into your body, which damage your heart, lungs, and other organs. But quitting, even after years of smoking, can reverse these effects and add years to your life.

 

 

 

 

 

How Sleep (or Lack of) Affects Your Overall Health

Americans are not getting enough sleep. According to the CDC, adults need between seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but most people average only six hours per night or less. Insufficient sleep can do more than make you cranky and groggy  – poor sleep can have lasting effects on your overall health, especially if it becomes a chronic problem.

Weight gain

Lack of sleep has been linked to being overweight, especially in women. Without enough sleep, you may be hungrier than usual and have cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Additionally, your body’s ability to signal when you are full may also be hindered, which can all lead to unwanted weight gain.

Weakened immune system

Even when you’re only moderately sleep-deprived, your immune system will be comprised. You’ll be more susceptible to catching colds, the flu and other viruses, and recovery time will take longer.

Poor mental performance

In short, poor sleep will keep your brain from functioning optimally. Concentration, memory, and cognitive function are all affected by sleep deprivation. When you’re overly fatigued, you’ll have a harder time learning something new and paying attention. This can impact your creativity, decision making, problem solving, and work or school performance.

Heart health

Your risk for developing high blood pressure or worsening high blood pressure if you already have it is increased if you get less than six hours of sleep per night. Over time, lack of sleep can increase your risk for developing heart disease despite other factors such as age, weight, and exercise habits.

Premature aging

If you’re regularly skimping on sleep, you’re more likely to get premature wrinkles and sagging of your skin, in part because cortisol, the stress hormone that’s released when you are sleep deprived, can break down collagen in your skin.

Improve your sleep habits

The good news is, many of the negative effects of sleep deprivation can be reversed or avoided by improving your sleep habits so you get quality sleep. Aim for eight hours per night.

  • Choose a bedtime and stick to it, even on weekends.
  • Avoid TV, smartphones, tablets, or computer screens before bed. These can be stimulating and affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
  • Don’t eat or drink late at night, especially avoid caffeinated beverages past 6 p.m. Water is OK.
  • Create a bedtime routine, such as brushing your teeth, showering or taking a warm bath, and listening to soft music or reading a book.
  • Make sure your room is dark except for a very soft nightlight if needed. This means TVs, smartphones, and other devices are turned off completely.

 

 

 

 

Recognizing the Signs of Heat Exhaustion

Summer may be winding down, but the weather outside is still hot. With fall just around the corner, you may be dreaming of pumpkin spice lattes and cozy sweaters, but in many parts of the country, September is still one of the hottest months of the year, so exercising outdoors should still be done with caution to prevent heat exhaustion.

 

Heat exhaustion happens when your body overheats. This condition is caused by exposure to high temperatures, especially when there is a combination of high humidity and strenuous activity. It is usually accompanied by dehydration. If not treated quickly and properly, heat exhaustion can progress to a more serious, life-threatening condition known as heatstroke. That’s why knowing the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and how to treat it is so important.

Signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion

  • Excessive sweating
  • Feeling faint or weak
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Rapid pulse
  • Muscle cramps

Anyone can experience heat exhaustion, but infants, children, and the elderly are especially at risk during hot weather. Don’t forget that dogs and other pets can also get heat exhaustion and heat stroke, so never leave your furry friends outdoors for extended periods during hot weather, and never leave a pet, child, or infant in a hot car.

Treatment for heat exhaustion

If you experience any of the symptoms of heat exhaustion when exercising or spending a lot of time outdoors in the heat, the first thing to do is stop the activity and move indoors to a cooler place. Rehydrate your body with water or a sports drink to replace important electrolytes that are lost when your body overheats. Applying ice packs or cold, wet towels to your forehead, back of neck, and wrists can also help. With prompt treatment, your symptoms should resolve in a couple of hours, but if they do not or you feel worse, seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

If you do not get out of the heat and properly treat heat exhaustion, symptoms can quickly progress to heatstroke, which is a life-threatening emergency. Signs of heatstroke include confusion,  odd behavior, agitation, high fever, and seizure. If you or anyone you are with are displaying signs of heatstroke, always call 911 immediately.

You can prevent heat exhaustion by being aware of symptoms anytime you are outdoors in hot weather and staying hydrated by drinking fluids before, during, and after any activity.

 

 

 

 

 

Decoding Different Types of Sunscreen

Daily sunscreen use is the best way to protect your skin from both the short-term and long-term effects of the sun. Yet choosing the right sunscreen can be confusing with all of the different products on the market.

Which sunscreens are best for your skin? Understanding the differences among sunscreen products can help you make the best choice for you.

Chemical vs. physical

To put it simply, there are two types of sunscreens: chemical blockers and physical blockers.  Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays while physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and reflect harmful UV rays.

Chemical sunscreens are the big-brand products that you can easily find on most drugstore shelves. They usually contain ingredients such as octylcrylen, avobenzone, and octinoxate. While they may be widely available, they can also be more irritating to your skin, especially for those with sensitive skin, skin conditions, or acne-prone skin.

Physical sunscreens use natural ingredients like zinc and titanium oxide to block the sun’s rays. They have become more popular recently with consumers’ increasing concerns about chemical safety, but still aren’t as easy to find as chemical sunscreens, though they do have a longer shelf life. Physical sunscreens are more gentle on the skin and are recommended by dermatologists and pediatricians for those with sensitive skin or skin conditions, as well as for children and babies.

UVA vs. UVB rays

Both UVA and UVB rays can be harmful to your skin, but not all sunscreens block both types of rays. UVA rays are the ones that cause sun damage such as premature wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays are the ones that cause those red, painful sunburns. Too much long-term exposure to either UVA or UVB sunscreens can cause skin cancer. For the best protection, chose a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays, which will be labeled “broad spectrum.”

SPFs

A sunscreen with SPF30 protects against 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays while an SPF50 blocks 98 percent : beyond that, the amount of extra protection is negligible. Higher SPF sunscreen products only add more chemicals that can irritate your skin and are usually more expensive. There are no products that offer 100 percent protection. That’s why all sunscreen labels remind you to reapply every two hours, especially after swimming or sweating.

The bottom line

So which sunscreen is the best? Dermatologists recommend one that is broad-spectrum, contains SPF30, and is water-resistant. The brand or whether you choose a lotion or spray are personal preferences—what is most important is that you choose one that you will use on a regular basis.