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Six Things Employees Should Know about Sunblock

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Turns out that there is so much misinformation floating around about sun protection that Quizzify can offer an entire month’s quiz on this single topic.

For starters, there is a difference between sunblock and sunscreen. It matters--and it has nothing to do with how high the SPF is. How’s that for a tease for this edition of Six Things?


1.) High SPFs are very overrated

One would think an SPF of 60 protects twice as much as an SPF of 30. Not even close. An hour in the sun wearing a 60 SPF is like 59 minutes with total protection. A 30 SPF? 58 minutes.

And there is a downside to high SPFs as well: people tend not to reapply them often enough. So paradoxically, a lower sunblock may offer more protection in practice than a higher one.


2.) Expensive sun protection products are less protective than inexpensive ones

Think those $3-an-ounce products protect better than the store brands? Think again. What you are paying extra for isn’t protection. It’s smoothness of application. Those store brands can feel like paint. And look like it too -- by turning you, in the immortal words of the great philosophers Procul Harem, a whiter shade of pale. (If you are under 40, ask your parents to sing it to you. They’ll be thrilled you’re giving them a chance to show that they are still cool.)

Nonetheless, the store brands with the same SPF are more effective. Here’s why. Like every other product in the history of capitalism, when the price of something is high, people buy less of it.

In the case of sun protection, buying less of it means using less of it. Which of course is exactly what you aren’t supposed to do.


3.) Speaking of which, you can’t assume that just because you still look like a whiter shade of pale, you don’t need to reapply

You need to be protected against two types of rays. The type that causes sunburn is UVB. That is what the white zinc oxide (or titanium dioxide) particles protect against. As long as you look white, you will be avoiding sunburn. You could look white all day on a single generous application if you don’t sweat or swim.

By contrast, the type of ray that penetrates the skin and causes your employees to get skin cancer (and age their skin prematurely) is UVA. UVA protection is invisible, and starts breaking down after two hours pretty much regardless of what you do – sweat or no sweat, swimming or sitting by the pool.

So being able to see the sunblock doesn’t mean you don’t need to reapply. Quite the opposite, that can easily leave you with the impression that you don’t, which is completely incorrect.


4.) Also speaking of which, regardless of price, people don’t use enough

You are supposed to reapply every two hours. You are also supposed to apply a full ounce to cover your body.

Like anybody ever does.

That would mean a couple spending a day at the beach would consume a full 6-ounce container. Whereas most people – and we here at Quizzify were no exception until we started reading up on this topic – could milk an entire vacation out of a single 6-ounce tube.


5.) On the other hand, it is possible to use too much.

So many urban legends here. First, that the nanoparticles of zinc oxide get into your blood. They don’t. Or if they do, the consequences are so rare that they haven’t shown up yet. Or whatever the consequences are, they don’t approach the risk of not using sun protection. So don’t worry about that.

However, it still is possible to use too much. While the zinc oxide that lies on top of your skin poses no real hazard, the chemicals in the invisible sunscreens protecting against UVA rays can in fact penetrate into your body. (Their effectiveness indeed depends on that. They diffuse the sun rays.) No one really knows what the hazards of these chemicals in your blood are, and the evidence is not exactly overwhelming. But just something people should know.

It is also possible, though unlikely, to develop a Vitamin D deficiency. If you cover everything, don’t eat dairy, and live in a cloudy area (I’m talking to you, Buffalo), you might want to go easy on it. You don’t need much sun exposure. But you should get what you need.

However, for the occasional trip to the beach or other very sunny place, the advice remains the same: use this stuff.


6.) And, finally, what is the difference between sunscreen and sunblock?

Sunblock lies on top of the skin. That’s what blocks UVB rays, turns you white and prevents sunburn. Sunscreen interacts with the skin to diffuse the sun’s rays and turn them into heat. This is what you can’t see. And yet, sunscreen is ultimately what prevents skin cancer. Indeed, sunscreen is the only product allowed to make that claim about any cancer, skin or otherwise.

So what’s the bottom line?

A store-brand broad-spectrum (UVA and UVB) choice will do you just fine (assuming you don’t need to impress your date, since the Casper the Friendly Ghost look isn’t exactly a fashion statement). How much water resistance (they can’t say “waterproof” or “sweatproof” any more) you need depends on whether you intend to sweat or swim. But reapply anyway.


If your wellness program doesn’t provide employees with the advice they need for a safe summer (beyond “use sunscreen”), perhaps you should add Quizzify to your benefits quiver?

And of course sun protection isn’t the only topic where employees have a “knowledge gap.”. Heartburn management, medicinal sleep aids, dietary fats and oils, sugar, and EAPs all fall under the category of things employees should know much more about…but don’t.

Because wiser employees make healthier decisions…and healthier decisions save money.


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