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The Chemistry of the 4th of July – Sunscreen

By: , Posted on: June 28, 2016

america beach

If you’re heading to the beach this 4th July weekend then you need to make sure you stay sun safe.  As well as reiterating the Skin Cancer Foundation’s tips to stay safe we also take the opportunity to look at the chemistry behind Sunscreen. People heading to the beach should be particularly vigilant, because water  can reflect up to 10% of the sun’s rays, sea foam about 25%, and sand about 15%, all adding to your overall exposure. By following these simple tips, you can celebrate Independence Day and enjoy time outdoors without risking your skin’s health:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
  • Do not burn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your doctor every year for a professional skin exam.

Sunscreen is a product that many of us take for granted, but you’ve got chemists and chemistry to thank for it preventing your skin turning lobster red in the summer sun. This infographic from Compound Interest provides an insight into the chemistry behind sunscreen and how it helps protect us:


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This infographic is reproduced with the kind permission of and the original post can be found here. The graphic is Copyright© Compound Interest and is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.


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