There has been a real evolution in the way we recommend wearing sunscreen. It is no longer just for the beach or pool. We now have substantial evidence that shows daily use of sunscreen greatly reduces the risk of developing skin cancer. With so many options to choose from, it doesn’t hurt to have a basic understanding of what all those letters and numbers on the bottle actually mean.
The American Academy of Dermatology, and myself professionally, recommend daily use of sunscreen. There are many sunscreens available that are both very effective and cosmetically elegant, as well as provide anti-aging and moisturizing components. Sunscreens come in a variety of formulations including lotions, creams, sprays, and even water resistant mineral powders.
During your daily life, it is important to consider the sun exposure you’re experiencing while traveling in your car or seated by a window at work. Whether you are driving long distances or just around town, you should protect the tops of your hands. The hands get a lot of sun, and the tinting in the windshield and car windows offer only minimal protection. Window glass and car windows block ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and not the more harmful, cancer and aging-causing ultraviolet A (UVA) rays that pass through glass unhindered.
The SPF factor is a measure of how much longer it will take for the skin to redden in the sun. So, if a sunscreen has an SPF rating of 15, it means it will take 15 times longer for sun exposure to redden the skin when it’s covered with that product. In addition, the rating only applies to UVB protection, not UVA.
Sunscreens that provide UVA protection are labeled “broad spectrum.” UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and are thought to be the key players in the development of skin cancer and premature aging. UVA protection decreases the wearer’s risk of developing melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers due to sun exposure. It is important to remember—unless a lotion is labeled broad spectrum— it only offers SPF protection for UVB rays and not the more harmful UVA rays.
Reapplication is key. Sunscreen breaks down in direct sunlight and loses its effectiveness, especially if you are in the water. Sunscreen must be reapplied at least every two hours regardless of the SPF rating. It is a common misconception that sunscreen does not need to be reapplied if it has a high SPF. In fact, most sunburns occur after initial application because people don’t reapply.
DLC offers a variety of broad spectrum sunscreens developed for all skin types. Here are a few of Dr. Adigun’s sunscreen tips:
- Start them young! Teach kids how to apply sunscreen just like you teach them to brush their teeth in front of a mirror. In fact, keep the sunscreen right next to the toothpaste in the bathroom.
- Keep heat stable sunscreen in your car for quick on the go applications (such as a mineral powder sunscreen).
- No more tears! Mineral sunscreens do not burn the eyes and are especially great for little ones at the pool or beach. There is also no time delay with mineral sunscreens as they are effective from the moment they are applied.
- Brush it on! Powder sunscreen is a great option for a person who has a receding hairline, bald area, or diffusely thin hair.
- Get glowing! Spray sunscreens are fine but they are often underused when applying. They should be applied as a continuous spray and sprayed long enough to see a visible gloss or sheen on the skin.
Chris G. Adigun, MD
Board Certified Dermatologist
Dermatology & Laser Center of Chapel Hill