Our doctors at The Woman’s Group know that skin cancers are more prevalent than ever: one out of every five Americans will get skin cancer at some point in their lives. About 90% of the time, the risk of developing skin cancer is directly related to the amount and intensity of ultraviolet (UV) light exposure one receives from the sun. It’s easy to limit excessive UV exposure with the regular use of sun protection. Sunscreen is an important part of the equation, and finding the right one for your specific needs can be a challenge.
Sun Protection Factors (SPF)
The sunscreen you choose depends on the type of outdoor exposure. For occasional sun exposure or when you are outside only for minutes at a time, a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15, which filters out about 93% of UV radiation, is sufficient. Your sunscreen should have broad spectrum protection, meaning it effectively protects against significant portions of both the ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) ranges of the light spectrum. For intense exposure, use SPF 30+ broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen. SPF 30 filters out up to 97% of the sun’s UV radiation; SPF 50 filters up to 98%.
Chemicals can irritate children’s sensitive skin so you should avoid PABA and oxybenzone as they can be associated with skin reactions. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are better options for sensitive skin.
Patients with allergy-prone skin, acne or rosacea should avoid products containing preservatives and fragrances, as well as those containing PABA or oxybenzone. Allergy prone and rosacea patients should also avoid sunscreens containing alcohol. Acne-prone patients should avoid greasy sunscreen “creams,” since they may encourage breakouts. Instead choose the UVB filter ensulizole which has a lighter, less oily consistency than most other chemical sunscreens.
Dry skin can benefit from moisturizing sunscreens. Numerous moisturizers are used in sunscreens; popular ones include lanolin, oils, and silicones such as dimethicone. Moisturizing sunscreens are often formulated as creams, lotions, or ointments, so look for these terms on the label.
For patients with a blotchy brown discoloration of the skin called melasma, those who have had skin cancer, or those who are very fair, sunscreen with an SPF of 30+ is recommended daily for extra protection. Since most people do not actually apply enough sunscreen to achieve the SPF listed on the container, frequent reapplication (after two hours out of doors or immediately after swimming or sweating heavily) is especially important.
Individuals with darker skin who tan easily and rarely burn may feel they do not need to use sunscreen. However, like sunburn, a tan is the result of DNA damage from exposure to the sun’s harmful UV radiation. Darker-skinned people may also be wary of using physical sunscreens, especially titanium-based products, because they can look chalky and white on the skin.12 Newer preparations, however, tend to be micronized, which means the particles are small enough to allow them to blend in and disappear into the skin. Chemical sunscreens are also an option; look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15+.
Aging skin may has already been exposed to large amounts of UV light exposure in their lifetime, but you can still benefit from sunscreen use. At any age, unprotected sun exposure increases the risk of developing new skin cancers and accelerates skin aging, age spots, wrinkles, sagging and leathery skin. Older people with decreased mobility may have a hard time applying sunscreen to areas such as the legs and back; for them, spray-on sunscreens may be a great option.
Sunscreen is an important part of a sun protection regimen that should also include seeking the shade, avoiding UV tanning, and wearing protective clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. By educating yourself about your many sunscreen options, you can be confident that the product you choose will fit your particular needs, offering you the best protection from the sun’s harmful rays — and helping to ensure that you use it regularly. After all, the sunscreen you apply consistently is the best sunscreen of all.
If you have any questions about what kind of sunscreen is right for you, give us a call at The Woman’s Group today.