Get the Facts about Sunscreen

Physicians Health Network Health & Awareness Articles

Summer in Wisconsin! It is finally here and with it comes time for playing outdoors – golfing, boating, swimming, camping, swinging bats and watching games at ball parks! While it is exciting to get outside and enjoy the warm sunshine, it is important that you take care of your skin to avoid too much sun.

“Sunscreen is safe and can protect your skin against skin cancer and premature aging, but it is not as effective unless it is applied correctly,” said Aloys L. Tauscheck, MD, JD, Shoreline Skin Specialists, Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

It is not uncommon for people to become confused while looking at sunscreen. Given the many terms and varieties, it is difficult to know what will be effective and which is the best to purchase. Knowing what these terms mean can help you choose a sunscreen that gives you the protection you expect.
Broad Spectrum Sunscreen
The FDA meaning of broad spectrum sunscreen is that it can protect you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Protection from the UVA (aging) rays and UVB (burning) rays help prevent:
 Skin cancer
 Early skin aging (premature age spots, wrinkles and sagging skin)
 Sunburn

The FDA meaning for this is how well a sunscreen protects you from sunburn. To simplify things, you may want to think of the sun protection factor (SPF) as the sunburn protection factor.
“One of the confusing things about SPF is the number that follows it. This number indicates how much UVB light different SPF’s will filter out,” said Dr. Tauscheck.
Research suggests SPF sunscreens with the following numbers will filter out:
 SPF 15: 93% of the sun’s UVB rays
 SPF 30: 97% of the sun’s UVB rays
 SPF 50: 98% of the sun’s UVB rays

The American Dermatological Association (AAD) recommends using an SPF 30 or higher. “It is important to also understand that no sunscreen can filter out 100% of the sun’s UVB rays; that is why it is important to wear protective clothing and seek shade,” added Dr. Tauscheck.

Tips for applying sunscreen correctly:

1. Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant and provides broad-spectrum coverage.
2. Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors. It takes approximately 15 minutes for our skin to absorb the sunscreen and start its job of protecting you. If you wait until you are in the sun to apply sunscreen, your skin is unprotected and can burn.
3. Use enough sunscreen – most adults need at least one ounce of sunscreen, about the amount you can hold in your palm, to fully cover all exposed areas of your body. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin.
4. Apply sunscreen to all bare skin and don’t forget to apply it to your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet and legs. For hard-to-reach areas like your back, ask someone to help you or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide-brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15.
5. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours to remain protected, or immediately after swimming or excessively sweating. People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun, or used an expired product. Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. So, whether you are on vacation or taking a brisk fall walk in your neighborhood, remember to use sunscreen.

Why re-apply?
It is important to understand that once applied, sunscreen only lasts so long on our skin – even water proof sunscreens. The sun’s rays break down some of the sunscreens and others clump and lose their effectiveness over time.
To continue protecting your skin from the sun when outdoors it is important to reapply sunscreen:
 Every 2 hours
 After toweling off
 When sweating*
 After being in water*
*When using water resistant sunscreen, you will need to reapply every 40 to 80 minutes.

Children’s sunscreens
Generally, when you see the term “baby” on sunscreen products, it means the sunscreen contains only Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide active ingredients. These ingredients are less likely to irritate a baby’s sensitive skin.
When using sunscreen on babies and toddlers, the AAD recommends the following:
Children younger than six months of age:
 Protect their skin from the sun by keeping them in the shade and dressing them in long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Take care to prevent overheating.
 If possible, avoid using sunscreen on children this young.
Children six months of age and older:
 Use a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which is most appropriate for the sensitive skin of infants and toddlers.
 Even when using sunscreen, keep your children in the shade and dress them in clothing that will protect their skin from the sun – long-sleeved shirts, pants and wide-brimmed hats.

To reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging, I recommend to my patients to generously apply a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both types of ultraviolet radiation (UVA and UVB) with an SPF 30 or higher. Other sun-safe practices such as limiting sun exposure, seeking shade and wearing sun-protective clothing, hats and sunglasses are encouraged,” said Dr. Tauscheck.

This is a great time to be outdoors no matter what your outdoor activities may be. “The American Academy of Dermatology wants to emphasize to consumers that sunscreen remains a safe, effective form of sun protection. It is one component of a daily sun-protection program in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer,” said Mark G. Lebwohl, MD, FAAD, President, American Academy of Dermatology.

American Academy of Dermatology