In Skin Cancer, Skin Care

With hundreds of brands and types of sunscreen on the market, it may be overwhelming to choose the right one for your skin type and sun exposure. As your go-to resource for all questions related to dermatology, Columbia Skin Clinic offers this handy information to protect your skin throughout the summer and year around.

Why bother with sunscreen?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, affecting more than 1 million people in the U.S. every year. However, skin cancer, because it is caused by sun exposure, is fortunately one of the most preventable types of cancer. This makes sunscreen a truly life-saving product.

It is important to wear sunscreen year-round, but as we begin the official start of summer it is especially vital to use sunscreen when experiencing long-term sun exposure. The use of sunscreen may be a life-saver, but only if used correctly.

How do I know if I have the right sunscreen?

As a first step, read the label of any sunscreen before making a purchase decision. Sunscreens will always have a sun protection factor or SPF. Our dermatologists typically recommend using a 50 SPF sunscreen, which blocks out 98% of the sun’s rays. It is debatable whether or not using sunscreen above 50 SPF really makes a difference. Sunscreens above 50 SPF only provides about a 1% increase in sun protection.

Furthermore, a higher SPF does not mean the application of sunscreen will last longer. All sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours or more frequently if coming in contact with water.

No matter what the label says, no sunscreen is waterproof or sweatproof. You may find a sunscreen that is “water-resistant,” but be aware of the time limit on the label and always reapply immediately after swimming.

What ingredients should I look for in a sunscreen?

Another factor to consider when reading sunscreen labels is the ingredients. Some research suggests avoiding products containing oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate, which may cause allergic skin reactions and increased development of skin tumors, respectively. Instead, look for sunscreens that include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in their active ingredients. Always opt for more effective lotion-type sunscreens instead of spray-ons.

What does “broad-spectrum” mean?

To add to sunscreen confusion, product labels often tout UVA or UVB protection. Sunscreen is the protective barrier from ultraviolet or UV rays from the sun, yet there are two separate types of UV rays. UVB results in surface-level damage to the skin and is the cause of sunburns. UVA on the other hand causes skin damage below the surface and can result in skin aging. SPF is used to measure UVB sun protection, and it does not protect against UVA radiation. The majority of sunscreens in the U.S. do not protect against both UV rays.

This is why it is important to always look for “broad-spectrum” or “full-spectrum” on sunscreen labels to ensure you are getting full protection. Broad-spectrum refers to a sunscreen that not only blocks UVB rays, like most, but also blocks UVA rays as well. The FDA has placed regulations stating a sunscreen can only be called “broad-spectrum” if it blocks against both types of UV rays.

Are homemade and DIY sunscreens effective?

With the nation trending toward more natural household products, sunscreen is one of the many products for which consumers are seeking a natural alternative. Google “DIY sunscreen” and you will get countless blog posts and recipes, and in turn many false claims.

Although homemade sunscreens are generally not harmful, their protection against the sun’s harmful rays is inadequate, if effective at all. Many of these recipes are simply a blending of essential oils, resulting in no true sun protection. Even if the DIY sunscreen includes sun protecting minerals, its actual SPF will never be known without lab testing. This leaves many people unprotected.

Mineral sunscreens are a more natural alternative, though their sun protection ratings are lower than chemical-based sunscreens. Choosing a sunscreen with zinc oxide is a more natural option. Zinc oxide works by reflecting the sun’s rays rather than absorbing them, like most chemical-based sunscreens. The bottom line is that chemical-based sunscreens consist of active ingredients that have been approved by the FDA, and their use is an extremely important step in preventing skin cancer.

Am I applying sunscreen correctly?

Even after reading all the labels and choosing the right sunscreen, you still may not be getting all the necessary benefits you need to protect your skin. Applying sunscreen correctly is the final step in making sure you are protected from the sun.

The American Academy of Dermatology reports that people typically don’t use enough sunscreen to completely protect their skin. Most people only use 25% to 50% of the recommended amount. Adults should use one ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass, in order to adequately cover their entire body. Furthermore, it takes a full 15 minutes for sunscreen to completely absorb into your skin. This means you should always apply sunscreen BEFORE going outdoors so that you are fully protected at all times. Always apply sunscreen at least every two hours if you remain in the sun for an extended period.

The bottom line about sunscreen

The use of sunscreen during sun exposure is highly necessary to protect your skin against skin cancer. Sunscreen can also prevent early signs of aging and sunspots. Using sunscreen on at least your face daily has become common practice and will help prevent a variety of skin issues.

For more information on how to protect your skin this summer, request a consultation. And if you need new sunscreen, we have a variety of sunscreens that you can purchase at one of our offices in Columbia, Irmo or Camden.

Anti-aging injectables in ColumbiaPhysician Assistant Laura Winn