With skin cancer rising in numbers, there is ample reason to continue the conversation about this condition and, importantly, how to protect yourself. Experts estimate that 90% of skin cancers are directly linked to UV exposure. This doesn’t have to mean a bad burn, as was once believed. The fact is, exposure to UVA and UVB rays damages skin cells. How we spend time outdoors matters, and sunscreen is a crucial aspect of protection.
There are some chemicals that have been approved by the FDA for inclusion in sunscreen products. These include cinnamates and para-aminobenzoic acid, or PABA. These chemical ingredients absorb UV rays and convert them to heat energy. Other ingredients, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, are physical sunscreens that actively scatter rays so they cannot be absorbed by the skin. Both types of ingredients are appropriate. The question is, which type of sunscreen is right for you?
The SPF Question
It is easy to become confused about the SPF, or sun protection factor, of sunscreen use. If you are only outdoors for a few minutes here and there, you may think that you don’t need sunscreen at all. Wrong. Conversely, if you plan an entire day at the beach, you may believe that you need one of those SPF 100 products. Also wrong. Here is a safe bet: choose an SPF 30 product with broad-spectrum protection. This product will require filers up to 97% of UV light, which is sufficient, so long as you reapply as needed.
Now for the Uniqueness of You!
- Dry skin needs a sunscreen with the moisturizer such as dimethicone or lanolin oils.
- Children’s skin may be sensitive to certain ingredients, such as oxybenzone and PABA. Instead, choose a physical sunscreen with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Spray sunscreen may be used but not applied directly to the face; apply to hands first.
- People with acne-prone skin, or with rosacea or allergies, may also be sensitive to sunscreen ingredients such as fragrances, preservatives, PABA, and oxybenzone. Products containing alcohol should be avoided, as well. If you are using medication for acne, even topical solutions, talk with your dermatologist about sunscreen use.
- Darker skin still needs to be protected from UV light! Both chemical and physical sunscreens are appropriate for dark skin. Physical sunscreens are now formulated with micronized particles, so they are less likely to look white on the skin. SPF 15 or SPF 30 products are suited.
- People with very fair skin, a history of skin cancer, or with melisma do not have to stay completely clear of sunlight. SPF 30 sunscreen needs to be applied 30-minutes before going outdoors, and it needs to be applied every two hours, or anytime you sweat or swim.
- Mature skin has sustained a fair amount of UV damage over the years. This can lead to laxity, discoloration, wrinkles, and precancerous or cancerous lesions. SPF 30 sunscreen needs to be carefully applied to the nose, ears, neck, chest, back of the neck, and all other exposed areas. This can be difficult for an older adult with limited mobility so that a spray-on product may be useful.