Sun Protection Guidelines: Sunscreen
Obviously, sunscreen is an integral component of a complete sun protection regimen. To protect your skin, always use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher whenever you’re outdoors. Broad-spectrum sunscreens block UVA and UVB rays, protecting your skin from both damaging rays. If you’re outside for an extended length of time, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. And be especially cautious when you’re around sand or water, which reflect the sun’s rays, and can increase the risk of sunburn.
“I’m a big fan of sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide,” says Sanjiv K. Saini, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist in private practice at MD Dermatology of Maryland in Edgewater. “These cream formulas are easily absorbed and vanish into the skin. Technology has improved so much in recent years, and these are really good products.”
Like Saini, Hendi also suggests choosing a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, especially if you have sensitive skin. If your skin isn’t prone to sensitivity, look for the following ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) or ecamsule (Mexoryl).
When used properly, sunscreen is perhaps your best defense against skin cancer. Thirty minutes before going outside, apply sunscreen liberally and evenly to your skin. Pay close attention to easily overlooked areas, such as your ears, neck, hands and feet. An average adult should use approximately one ounce of sunscreen—enough to fill a shot glass. Reapply at least every two hours—more often if you’ve been swimming or sweating excessively. Water-resistant sunscreen is ideal, but remember: no sunscreen is waterproof.
Choose a sunscreen that you like and that suits your skin. Sunscreens are available in a variety of formulations to promote ease of use, including lotions, gels, sprays, creams and rub-on sticks.
“I always tell my patients that finding the right sunscreen can take some time,” says Saini. “It depends on what feels good on your skin and what you can tolerate. You may have to try different formulas before you find the right one. It’s very important that you like it. Otherwise, you won’t use it—or reapply it. Many people choose a great sunscreen, but ignore directions about reapplying it. One application can’t protect your skin all day long.”
Recent “scares” reported by the media may have caused concern about the use of sunscreen. If you’re worried about claims that chemicals in sunscreen aren’t safe, rest assured. Confusion about the safety of sunscreen arose in May 2010 when a report by the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that studies chemicals in consumer products, stated that retinyl palmitate, a form of vitamin A and a common ingredient in sunscreen, was linked to skin cancer in laboratory rats.
“Retinyl palmitate is not a carcinogen in humans,” says Hendi. “These studies were conducted on mice that ingested mega doses. Humans apply sunscreen topically, so only trace amounts are absorbed into the skin. Studies such as these are always questionable because you can’t extrapolate research conducted on animals to humans. The bottom line—and I can’t stress this enough—is that sunscreen is safe. And the potential benefits of applying sunscreen outweigh any potential harm of any ingredient. So keep using your sunscreen.”