Now that the nice weather is upon us again- it is time to start thinking of sun protection. Not only does the sun cause skin cancers such as Melanoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) but it also can cause not so appealing cosmetic issues such as brown spots and wrinkles. If you could do one thing in terms of anti-aging, it would be to wear sunscreen and lots of it.
Here are some commonly asked questions about sunscreen:
Why wear sunscreen?
As I stated above, the sun can cause all sorts of issues including skin cancer- Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma (which can be deadly). The rate of skin cancer in the younger population is on the rise. As a physician assistant in the dermatology field, it is truly astonishing to see the amount of patients who know that the sun is “bad” for them, yet still use tanning beds. People who use tanning beds have a much much higher risk of getting Melanoma. Not only can the sun cause skin cancer but it can cause your skin to look old and weathered; it can cause you to develop fine lines, wrinkles and brown spots…none of which you want to have!
What type of sunscreen should I wear?
You should use a broad-spectrum sunscreen which is one that covers both UVA and UVB rays. You should wear an SPF of 30 or higher OR the highest SPF number you can find (in my opinion anyway). You should also seek out shade (i.e. umbrella at the beach) and try to cover up as much as possible.
When and how often should I apply sunscreen?
So many patients in our office say “but I do not ‘take’ the sun. I never lay out”. Just because you are not baking away in the sun, does not mean that you do not get sun. Every time you are outside (walking around, driving your car, etc), the sun is affecting you. You should wear sunscreen on exposed parts EVERY DAY! On days that you are going to the beach/pool/etc you should apply 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun and every 2 hours thereafter. If you go swimming or sweat, apply more often.
How much sunscreen should I use?
More than you think. Most people apply only about 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. Whatever part of your body will be exposed, needs sunscreen. 1 ounce of sunscreen (or a shot glass full) is enough to cover exposed areas of the body, usually (depends on your body size!).
What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF refers to the theoretical amount of time you can stay in the sun without getting sunburned. For example, an SPF of 15 would allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer than you could without protection.
How high of an SPF should I buy?
Do NOT ever buy a 15 SPF. Get a 30 or higher. However, after you go above thirty, the amount of protection from the sun is only slightly increased (as opposed to comparing an SPF of 15 to a 30- which is a big difference). My motto is- buy as high as you can get but know that you still have to reapply every two hours. Just because it is a higher number, does not make you invincible to the sun.
Is sunscreen safe for me to use?
Yes. There is no proof that any of the ingredients in sunscreen cause health issues.
UVA versus UVB?
Sunlight has 2 types of UV rays- UVA and UVB. BOTH cause cancer. To differentiate the two, however, think of UVA rays as causing Aging of the skin (A for Aging) such as wrinkles and brown spots and UVB rays as causing Burns (B for Burns). UVA can get through windows and UVB cannot.
What is a base tan?
This is another thing we hear a lot in our office…. “I went to Mexico and before I went, I went indoor tanning for a month, just to get a base tan”. There is NO such thing as a base tan. Tanned skin, is damaged skin. No other way around it.
Can I reuse the same sunscreen I have from last summer?
If you are using sunscreen everyday, you will not have a bottle from last summer. With that being said, read the expiration labels on your old sunscreen; if they are expired, throw them out and buy new.
If I wear sunscreen, won’t my Vitamin D be too low?
It can. If you are truly being very careful in the sun and do not spend much time outdoors, you should consult your doctor and take a supplement.
from the AAD- American Academy of Dermatology
I have to admit, as an athlete who is outside a lot biking, running, etc. it can be very hard to protect my skin from the sun 24/7. I also tan VERY easily (I guess it is the Italian blood in me); it does not take much time in the sun for me to get a tan. I try to protect myself the best that I can. That is all you can really ask of yourself, you know? If you make yourself aware of the damaging effects of the sun and try to protect yourself as best as possible, you are WAY ahead the rest of the population. You cannot undo the damage of the past, but you can start now and change the future!