June 2020: The Importance of Sunscreen
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, and the incidence is rising. As dermatologists, we know that unprotected sun exposure is the most common and preventable risk factor for the development of all types of skin cancer, including melanoma. In addition, excess sun exposure is primarily responsible for premature aging of the skin, resulting in wrinkles and age spots. Daily sunscreen, along with other methods to lessen sun exposure, can greatly reduce the sun’s harmful effects.
To protect your skin, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following:
- Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm.
- Seek shade.
- Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, pants, and sunglasses.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun and can increase your chance of sun damage.
- All individuals, over 6 months of age, should apply sunscreen daily to all exposed skin.
The ideal sunscreen should provide a broad spectrum of coverage against both UVA and UVB rays, have an SPF 30 or higher rating, and contain water resistant properties. There are two types of sunscreens, physical and chemical sunscreens. Both types are regulated by the FDA and considered safe and effective at providing protection against the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Physical sunscreens include the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide and work by deflecting the sun’s rays from the skin surface. Chemical sunscreens may include a variety of active ingredients including oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate, and/or octinoxate. This type of sunscreen is applied to the skin and works like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. When comparing the two types of sunscreens, physical sunscreens more effectively block both UVA and UVB rays and may be better suited for individuals with sensitive, allergy prone skin. In contrast, chemical sunscreens tend to be more cosmetically appealing, but have a higher incidence of skin irritation or allergy.
Whether you choose a physical or chemical sunscreen, apply the sunscreen to dry skin, 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. Reapply after swimming or excessively sweating and, when outdoors for an extended period of time, sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours. Most importantly, choose a sunscreen that you enjoy and will wear every day! As always, if you have any questions or need assistance with finding a specific type of sunscreen that fits your personal preference, I am here to help!
Joshua M. Pitre, MD
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