By: Francesca Lewis, MD, FAAD Board Certified Dermatologist
Yes, I know many of you may be thinking “I never go to the beach,” or “I always tan and never burn, so what’s the big deal.” Well, I am here to tell you why sunscreen should be your best friend and what to look for in the right sunscreen. We know that the sun causes cumulative damage to our skin, resulting in the weakening and breakdown of our normal collagen and elastin fibers. This leads to laxity of the skin and the dreaded wrinkles that we get with time. In addition, the sun’s UV rays (mostly UVA) cause “sun spots” (called lentigines), “broken blood vessels” (telangiectasias), and general unevenness of the skin tone. All of these problems are just a symptom of a (usually) life-long sunscreen deficiency.
In addition to the cosmetically unappealing consequences of long-term sun exposure, we know that the sun’s UV rays (this time UVB more so than UVA) contribute to free radical formation in the skin and ultimately progression to skin cancer. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, and one person dies from Melanoma every hour. Although more common in fair skinned patients, skin cancer can commonly affect Caucasians that “only tan and don’t burn” and even darker skin types.
So how much sun is too much? Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a healthy tan since it is an indicator of UV damage. Experiencing five or more blistering sunburns in adolescence can increase your risk of Melanoma by 80 percent. The use of indoor tanning beds increases your risk of Melanoma by close to 60 percent. Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily to all exposed areas cuts the risk of Melanoma in half! Sunscreen should be the mainstay of our skin care regimen, especially as Floridians. It should be applied every morning before leaving the house and reapplied every two to three hours when outdoors. Even if you are not a beach-goer, it is an important habit to adopt because both chronic tanning and intermittent sun exposure can lead us down the skin cancer pathway.
So you may be wondering how to navigate the sunscreen aisle. I always say, “The best sunscreen is the one that you are going to use.” That being said, there are some important criteria to look for when choosing a sunscreen. One thing to keep in mind, is that research has found that we use half as much sunscreen as we should, and thus, we are likely getting about half the SPF listed. For that reason and because higher SPF sunscreens have better UVA protection (remember, the rays that cause photoaging), we recommend choosing an SPF of at least 30. The term “broad-spectrum” indicates both UVA and UVB coverage, and “water-resistant” means reapplication is needed after 40 minutes of water activities or excessive sweating. One ounce of sunscreen is the amount recommended to cover the entire body of an average sized person for one application. So that means for a five hour trip to the beach you should have used your entire bottle of sunscreen, based on an average 3 oz Neutrogena cream sunscreen.
In terms of ingredients, the most “natural” and most broad-spectrum ingredients are zinc and titanium “sunblocks” that physically block the sun. Many other sunscreens on the market contain chemical sunscreens. These absorb UV rays and become inactivated with repeated exposure to UV, which is why reapplication is important. Although some concerns have been raised over various chemical sunscreen ingredients, there have been no concrete demonstrated risks in humans to any of our ingredients on the market. However, be sure to check consumer reports to make sure the sunscreen you choose has an accurate SPF.
This being said, do not rely on sunscreen alone to protect you while having fun outdoors. It is still best to “seek shade” during the peak hours of the sun between 10 a.m- 3 p.m. and wear UPF sun protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.
- UVA causes most of our skin aging including brown spots, telangiectasias, and wrinkles
- UVB and in part UVA causes skin cancer development
- 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer
- Sun damage leading to skin cancer can occur from both chronic tanning, intermittent sunburns and chronic low-grade sun exposure
- More than 5 blistering sunburns in adolescence increases Melanoma risk by 80%
- Indoor tanning increases Melanoma risk by 60%
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30
- Use 1 oz of sunscreen per application to the whole body and reapply every 2 hours
- Daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen will decrease the risk of melanoma by 50%
- Delray Dermatology + Cosmetic Center is holding an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. on Nov. 4. Visit delrayskin.com for more information.