Many patients coming for skin cancer screenings at Affiliated Dermatologists understand the importance of protecting one’s skin from the damaging rays of ultraviolet light that come from the sun. Most accept as part of that protection, the importance of wearing or using sunscreens. With the vast number of sunscreens available, however, it can sometimes be difficult to know which products to choose and how to use sunscreens properly.
The physicians at Affiliated Dermatologists recommend regular use of broad spectrum sunscreens for sun exposed skin to prevent skin cancer and excessive aging of the skin. A sunscreen should be at least SPF 30and broad spectrum (meaning able to protect against both UVA and UVB rays). The SPF only refers to how well a sunscreen protects against UVB rays, the burning rays of the sun. To ensure UVA protection as well, one must read the active ingredients on the label and make sure that the sunscreen contains at least ONE of the following: avobenzone (PARSOL 1789), Mexoryl, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide For those who have concerns about chemical sunscreens, stick with ones that contain only zinc or titanium.
Most people use too little sunscreen, and apply too infrequently. Approximately one ounce (a shot glass full or a large adult handful) is recommended for an average sized adult to cover the entire body. This means that a typical 3-6 ounce bottle of sunscreen should last for only 3-6 applications. The great irony of many sunscreens is that sunlight can inactivate them, making them useless after a few hours in the sun. There is no such thing as “all-day protection” or “waterproof” sunscreen. For this reason, you should apply ample amounts of sunscreen every 2 hours, even if you are not sweating or swimming. Finally, even the best sunscreen is far from perfect, so combining it with protective hats and other clothing and trying to avoid the peak UV hours between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. is wise.
The doctors at Affiliated Dermatologists try to keep abreast of the health and safety implications of sunscreens. It can be a challenge to sort through the information widely available on the internet and in newspapers and discover what is validated by reputable research. Our current recommendations are to apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours. Avoid mid-day sun exposure and cover up with clothing when possible. Ask your dermatologist if you have additional questions.