As you keep you and your family safe this season, don’t forget to include protection from UV rays. Now that we’re spending more time in the sun, knowing proper sunscreen safety can help protect your skin from everything from skin cancer to aging skin.
The regular use of sunscreen can help protect against skin cancers and precancers. Sunscreen also helps slow down photo aging such as dark spots and wrinkles. Photo aging is caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation and can appear as freckles, melasma, a change in the skin’s texture, actinic keratoses and more. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunlight is the number one cause of skin aging.
“Everybody benefits from wearing sunscreen, regardless of their gender, skin tone or age,” said Tara Buehler, MD, dermatologist at Pariser Dermatology. “Skin cancer can, unfortunately, happen to anyone. The great news is that by applying sunscreen daily, you can help guard yourself against this risk. I suggest keeping your sunscreen next to your toothbrush so you’re reminded to use it every morning.”
Types of Sunscreen
It can feel overwhelming trying to decipher which type of sunscreen is best. There are a number of choices available online, at your local drugstore and through your dermatologist. Let’s break down the different types of sunscreens, waterproof versus water resistant sunscreens, and what the SPF number really means.
Physical Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Sunscreen is often categorized into two types: physical and chemical.
Physical sunscreen protects the skin by sitting on top of it and deflecting the sun’s UV rays. It contains ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide and is sometimes referred to as ‘natural sunscreen.’ Most baby sunscreens are physical sunscreens as they tend to be less irritating to the skin.
Chemical sunscreen protects the skin by absorbing the sun’s UV rays, rather than deflecting it. Once absorbed, our bodies convert the UV rays into heat and release it. Chemical sunscreens tend to be more water resistant so they’re a great option for people who are active in the sun or sweat a lot.
“Waterproof” Sunscreen vs. Water Resistant Sunscreens
It’s important to look for a sunscreen that is water resistant. However, it’s good to do your research on brands claiming their product is waterproof. In 2011, the FDA banned sunscreen manufacturers from claiming that products are “waterproof” or “sweat-proof,” saying those terms are inaccurate. “Sunscreen makers will only be allowed to claim that products are ‘water-resistant’ and will have to specify whether they work for 40 or 80 minutes,” according to The Washington Post.
Sun Protectant Factor (SPF)
All sunscreens include a sun protectant factor (SPF) rating. The rating generally ranges from 5 to over 100 and are an indicator of the amount of UVB protection a sunscreen offers. However, a sunscreen with 15 SPF blocks approximately 90% of the sun’s rays, whereas one with 30 SPF blocks roughly 97% of UV rays.
“At Pariser Dermatology, we recommend everyone applies a sunscreen with 30 SPF on a daily basis,” said Dr. Buehler.
When it comes to the SPF number, David Pariser, MD, dermatologist at Pariser Dermatology and past president of the American Academy of Dermatology, explains that the higher it is, the less practical difference it makes.
Dr. Pariser was quoted in the New York Times, sharing that, “A sunscreen’s SPF number is calculated by comparing the time needed for a person to burn unprotected with how long it takes for that person to burn wearing sunscreen… Because a lot of sunscreens rub off or don’t stay put, dermatologists advise reapplication every two hours or after swimming or sweating.”
Uncommon knowledge about sunscreen
- Buy a sunscreen that’s labeled broad spectrum. (This means it will help guard against both UVB and UVA rays.)
- If you have sensitive skin, try a physical sunscreen rather than a chemical sunscreen.
- Remember that you still need to apply the sunscreen even if your makeup says it contains sunscreen. Consider using a sunscreen moisturizer combination before you apply your makeup. This can help ensure you have adequately covered your face, neck and arms.
- Wear sunscreen on a cloudy day! In fact, 80% of UV rays can get through clouds on overcast days.
- Make sure you apply enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, you want to cover your face and neck in approximately one ounce (about one shot glass full) of product.
Lastly, it’s important to reapply sunscreen every two hours if you’re indoors or in a shady environment. Otherwise, if you’re sweating or in the pool, reapplying every 40-80 minutes is recommended.
Getting Started with Sunscreen
Have any questions or concerns when it comes to sunscreen? Our front desk staff and providers are happy to answer your questions. We also offer a variety of physician-approved sunscreens that are available at all seven of our office locations. Or click here to order sunscreen online.