With a myriad of new sunscreens hitting store shelves this summer, and the barrage of marketing hype over ingredients such as Mexoryl and Helioplex, patients are overwhelmed over which sunscreens to buy.
Here are some FAQs that may help you navigate those store shelves:
What is SPF?
The SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a numerical ratio based on the time skin would normally take to burn without a sunscreen. For example, if your skin burns in 20 minutes, an SPF of 10 would protect your skin 10 times longer, or for 200 minutes. However, while this might sound like enough protection, most experts recommend that you always use a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher.
Sunscreens with higher SPFs may give people a false sense of security, or a license to spend even longer time out in the sun. A sunscreen should be used to protect your skin from normal sun exposure during the day. it is not meant for you to abuse your skin even more. Remember, studies show sunscreens with high SPF numbers only give minimal extra benefits, but can also cause more irritation to your skin. It is more important to choose a sunscreen that you like and feels good on your skin, rather than choosing a heavy duty SPF 60 product that feels thick and sticky. Regardless of SPF 15 or SPF 60, all sunscreens should be reapplied every 2 to 3 hours.
What ingredients should I look for in a sunscreen?
When selecting a sunscreen, look for products labeled “broad-spectrum UVA and UVB” protection. The package should include a list of active ingredients. Look for physical sunblocks, such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These ingredients work by actually deflecting sunlight away from your skin, and are much more effective sun protection than chemical sunblocks, such as Avobenzone, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.
How thick should I apply my sunscreen?
If you are wearing a bikini or swimming trunks, you will need to apply at least 1 ¼ ounces of sunscreen (a little more than a shot glass) to effectively protect all exposed skin. Spread on sunscreen at least ½ millimeter thick, and let it absorb into your skin at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. Also remember to reapply every 2-3 hours.
Do I have to wear sunscreen on a cloudy day?
Even on a cloudy day, roughly 80% of the sun’s UV rays pass through the clouds. In addition to using sunscreen, it is highly recommended that you wear a hat, a light long sleeved shirt to protect your arms, and sunglasses while outdoors. Also remember to apply sunscreen to your ears, neck and upper chest (décolleté). The latter are often-overlooked areas in terms of sun protection, but are equally susceptible to photoaging, as well as skin cancer.