Monday, June 24, 2019

Protect Your Skin: Tips on Sun Safety

By Ila Sehgal, DO
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School
Member, Texas Medical Association

As pediatricians, we frequently ask our patients in clinic if they wear sunscreen, and we recommend that they wear sunscreen whenever outside in the sun. We hype sun protection with good reason: preventing skin cancer. Skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States, as 1 in 5 Americans will develop the condition in their lifetime.

Broadly speaking, we know that the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays – an invisible kind of radiation that comes from the sun – lead to wrinkles and skin discoloration. Most importantly, these rays can cause skin cancer. There are three types of UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC). UVA rays cause aging of the skin, while UVB rays cause sunburns. Together, UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer. (UVC rays, while being the most damaging type of UV radiation, do not reach the earth’s surface because they are absorbed by the atmosphere.)

Trying to follow the sun safety advice I give my patients, I recently entered the grocery store to purchase sunscreen. Immediately I was faced with multiple decisions to make: brand of sunscreen, sun protection factor (SPF), specialty sunscreens like those for your face, and water-resistant sunscreens. Eventually I decided on the highest SPF I could find and one that was water resistant. The experience prompted me to delve deeper into learning what is important when choosing a sunscreen.

Here is what I learned:

True or False:

1. You should look for a label that says “broad spectrum.”

2. You should always pick the highest SPF possible.

  • False! 
  • The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sun screen with at least SPF 30, which blocks 97% of the sun’s UVB rays. Although higher SPFs may block a little more of the sun’s rays, no sunscreen can block 100% of the UVB rays. 

3. All sunscreens are waterproof.

  • False! 
  • If a sunscreen bottle is labeled “water resistant,” this means the sunscreen is water- resistant for approximately 40 minutes. If it is labeled “very water resistant” the sunscreen should be water-resistant for approximately 80 minutes. You still have to reapply more sunscreen every 40-80 minutes after going in the water, sweating, or drying off with a towel. 
  • Even if you don’t get your skin wet while using a water-resistant sunscreen you still need reapply every two hours. 
  • No products are truly waterproof. 
  • Always pick a sunscreen that is water resistant.
  • If you see the word “sports” on a sunscreen bottle, this may be hinting that this sunscreen is water-resistant. Check the label and look for the words “water resistant” or “very water resistant” to be sure. 

Only sunscreens that provide at least an SPF of 15 and broad
spectrum protection are allowed to claim they reduce the
risk of skin cancer and premature aging.
4. All sunscreens reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

  • False! 
  • Only sunscreens that provide at least an SPF of 15 AND broad spectrum protection are allowed to claim that they reduce these risks when used in conjunction with other sun protection measures. 
  • Sun protective measures include: wearing long sleeve t-shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses and decreasing the amount of time spent in the sun from 10 am-2 pm. 
  • Keep in mind, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. 

5. It’s better to buy a combination sunscreen/insect repellent product.

  • False!
  • While both sunscreen and insect repellent are important products, sunscreen should be applied more frequently, and insect repellent should be applied less often and more cautiously. Therefore, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends buying separate products. 

6. Baby sunscreen contains ingredients that are less irritating to babies’ skin.

  • True! 
  • Baby sunscreen typically contains the following active ingredients: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. 

7. Avoid using sunscreen on children younger than 6 months.

  • True!
  • In children younger than 6 months, you should avoid using sunscreen and instead protect their skin with long-sleeved shirts, pants, hats, and sunglasses. Additionally, try to keep children this age in the shade.
  • For children 6 months of age or older, you should use a sunscreen that has zinc oxide or titanium dioxide because these active ingredients are most appropriate for infants’ and toddlers’ sensitive skin.  

8. Most adults need about one ounce of sunscreen to completely cover their bodies.

9. You do not need to apply sunscreen to your lips.

10. SPF stands for sun protection factor.

In summary, the right sunscreen is one that is broad-spectrum, water resistant, and an SPF of 30 or higher to maximize protection from the sun!

Note: Visit the American Academy of Dermatology for more information

1. Long, M. (2017). Sun Exposure Pediatrics in Review, 38 (9) 446-447; DOI: 10.1542/pir.2016-0233
2. American Academy of Dermatology:
3. Korioth, T. (2013). Sunscreen 101: What to look for in sun protection for kids. Aapnews, 34(5).
4. New sunscreen labels to help consumers protect against sun damage. (2011). Aapnews, 32(8).

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