Something we’ll never tire of telling our patients is that sunscreen is important, every day, all year long, no matter what you’re doing or what type of skin you have. However, when it comes to purchasing and using sunscreen correctly, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. Which sunscreen is best? Do we need different sunscreen for our face and body? What are the most common sunscreen mistakes?
No matter your questions, we find that many people associate sun exposure with premature aging, while they should really be more worried about the risk of skin cancer (May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, after all!). Luckily, the key to avoiding skin cancer is prevention! To help you navigate the world of skin protection, our providers have answered your most frequently asked questions below.
Who should be wearing sunscreen?
Sunscreens are safe and effective and should be worn daily by everyone!! (6 months and older; younger than 6 months should avoid exposure to sun) Sunscreens prevent skin cancer and premature aging.
What is the difference between types of sunscreens (physical, chemical, spray)?
There are 2 types of sunscreen–chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and are the ones we typically think “rub in” well to skin without leaving a white residue. Chemical active ingredients include one or more of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Physical sunscreens block the sun’s rays on your skin. Active ingredients include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These don’t typically rub in as well, but physical sunscreen tends to work better for people with sensitive skin. There are also sunscreens that are a combination of chemical and physical active ingredients. When choosing a sunscreen make sure to read the active ingredients!
You can also find spray sunscreens in various brands, though you should know some were recalled because the products contained benzene, which is a carcinogen. The levels of benzene varied by batches and lots and therefore was believed to be a manufacturing contamination problem. Benzene is NOT a component of sunscreen. If you choose to use a spray sunscreen, make sure all sun-exposed areas of your body are completely covered. You should spray and then rub in! For your face, spray into your hands and rub onto your face.
Is it true that SPF 70+ really isn’t more effective than SPF 50?
When choosing a sunscreen, SPF 30 or greater is recommended. SPF 30 blocks 97% of the UVB rays. Higher SPFs block a little more of the rays, but no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays. Remember: a higher number SPF does not change the rules for application— you still need to apply every 2 hours while outdoors! Also, sunscreen is not enough to protect your skin from the sun. Wear a wide brimmed hat, sun-protective clothing, seek shade when possible, and try to avoid the sun rays when they are strongest between 10am – 2pm.
Should people buy sunscreen based on their skin type?
For people that have sensitive skin, find one that you are able to tolerate and reapply every 2 hours when outside. I typically recommend EltaMD for patients with sensitive skin. If you are having a difficult time finding a sunscreen that works for you, don’t give up and ask your dermatologist! Also, sunscreen in and of itself is “anti aging” as the sun causes damage to the skin, leading to premature aging.
Can I use the same sunscreen everywhere or should I get different kinds for specific body areas?
Most importantly, you should find a sunscreen that you will consistently apply so pick one that works on your skin and for your life! However, these specific area products have good uses. SPF lip balm is important to protect your lips from the sun—a must have! If you have more sensitive skin, you may need a different option for face than body. There are gels that are a good option for the scalp, if you don’t like putting lotion close to your hair.
Are there different sunscreen guidelines for varying skin tones?
No! No matter your skin tone, apply sunscreen every day! It should be a part of everyone’s daily routine. Then reapply 15 mins before going outside and every 2 hours while outside. Even on cloudy days, since the sun’s rays can still penetrate the clouds. Guidelines do not change for different skin tones— any one can get skin cancer regardless of age, race, gender.
What are some of the most common sunscreen “mistakes” you see?
- People who only wear sunscreen on sunny days or in the summer. The sun rays can penetrate clouds so you are susceptible to sun damage and sunburn all year long.
- Forgetting to apply completely: cover anything exposed to the sun, including eyelids and ears, hands and arms when driving and spf lip balm on lips.
What are your favorite splurge and save products?
EltaMD is my favorite high end splurge. They have a great variety of products including tinted sunscreen and lip sunscreen. Their active sunscreen is also a favorite pick for my husband who is an avid golfer and asks me for the “good sunscreen”. Pipette for kids/toddlers/babies older than six months. ISDIN mineral powder: I apply it in addition to my regular sunscreen and keep it in my purse to reapply on the go. My favorite drugstore products are: Cerave and Neutrogena.
What sunscreen products or brands should I avoid?
Any sunscreen less than SPF 30 or not broad spectrum, especially make ups or facial moisturizer because, although they are convenient, they typically don’t meet that criteria. Also, in general, any sunscreen that irritates your skin is a no-go because you are less likely to put it on and consistency is key!
If you have specific questions about sun exposure prevention or what products might be best for you, schedule a consultation with our providers at (704) 375-6766.