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Protect Your Skin: Sunscreen Basics


Reduce Your Risk for Skin Cancer with Sunscreen

Warmer weather means more fun in the sun, but don’t let a sunburn put a damper on your fun. Dr. Ashley Walker, Dermatologist at CaroMont Dermatology, provides a refresher on proper sunscreen use.

Why is it so important for people to wear sunscreen?
Sunscreen can prevent sunburns and reduce skin cancer risk. Sunscreens help block the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage the skin’s DNA, thereby causing skin cancer development and accelerated aging.

What actually happens to the body when a person gets a sunburn? What are the long-term effects of a sunburn?
Sunburns are a result of excessive sunlight exposure. The amount of sunlight the skin can tolerate before redness or a burn occurs varies among individuals, but we are all susceptible to sunburns. Typically, sunburns produce redness, tenderness, and mild swelling of the skin, which physiologically result from dilation of the blood vessels and an immune-mediated inflammatory response in the skin. More severe burns can cause blistering of the skin and even systemic symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea, rapid heart rate and low blood pressure.

Repeat sunburns causes thickening of the skin and chronic suppression of the immune system, thereby contributing to the damage of cells and the development of cancer in the skin.

What should people look for on the label when choosing a sunscreen?
As recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), I advocate daily usage of sunscreen containing an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 or above. For the most extensive protection, look for sunscreens which are labeled “broad-spectrum” and which contain physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. If you will be exposed to water when outdoors, apply a “water-resistant” sunscreen to remain protected while immersed in the pool, lake, ocean, etc. Similarly, water-resistant sunscreens are preferred if you sweat excessively.

I once heard that SPF’s higher than 30 do not provide much more protection? Is that true and why or why not?
Sunscreens with an SPF of 30 provide protection against approximately 97% of the sun’s UV radiation. Thus, while sunscreens with SPFs greater than 30 are effective, they provide little added benefit.

Are there any misconceptions about sunscreens or misunderstandings abo u t how to use them?

•Apply sunscreen even when the weather is overcast. On cloudy or rainy days, nearly 80% of the sun’s harmful radiation is still emitted and can penetrate the skin.

•Apply sunscreen when driving in the car. Non-tinted windows in a vehicle do not protect against UVA, which is the primary culprit in sun-induced aging.

•Tanning beds do not decrease your risk for sunburns. Both UVA and UVA/UVB tanning beds can produce sunburn and each usage of the tanning bed increases an individual’s risk for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

What are some of the biggest mistakes that you see when it comes to sunscreen use?
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. Many people do not apply sunscreen as frequently as they should.

In general, reapplication of sunscreen every 2 hours is recommended. However, each person’s sensitivity to the sun varies and must be taken into consideration when determining how often to reapply sunscreen. An individual who burns easily will need to reapply sunscreen more frequently throughout the day.

How long before sun exposure should sunscreen be applied?
The AAD recommends applying sunscreen 15 minutes prior to exposure to sunlight and the outdoors.

How much sunscreen do you recommend that people use per application?
Apply enough sunscreen to cover all areas not protected by clothing; most individuals require approximately one ounce, equivalent to a “full shot glass” or a “palm-full” to coat exposed skin. Sunscreen should be rubbed in thoroughly.

When should sunscreens be thrown away, and how long after the expiration date is sunscreen still effective?
If the expiration date on the sunscreen has passed, the sunscreen should be discarded. If the expiration date is not determinable, discard the sunscreen if you have had it beyond three years; the FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their efficacy for at least three years but does not guarantee efficacy beyond that point. Changes in the color or consistency of the sunscreen may also indicate expired or ineffective sunscreen. When in doubt, throw it out! And try to label your sunscreens with the purchase date to avoid confusion in the future.

Are there other things that must be considered when applying sunscreen on children?
It is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age to spend time in the sun. It is also not recommended to apply sunscreens to babies under 6 months of age. Instead, keep little ones in shaded areas, protected from direct sunlight. Dress them in clothing that covers the entire body and protect their heads and eyes with wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, respectively. For toddlers and children beyond 6 months of age, physical blockers such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are the preferred agents and tend to be less irritating to young, sensitive skin.

What are some other ways to reduce the risk of sunburn?
Other sun-protective measures include, avoiding the mid-day sun between the hours of 10am and 2pm, seeking shaded areas when outdoors, wearing sunglasses, wearing wide-brimmed hats that cover the nasal tip and ears, and wearing clothing and hats with built-in SPF.

Categories: Health