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Sun Protection, What To Know About Sunscreen

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Sun Protection, What To Know About Sunscreen

Sun Protection, What To Know About Sunscreen
August 01
16:11 2017

Article Highlights

  • Sunscreen helps to prevent the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the skin
  • UVA generally penetrates the skin more deeply and is known to cause photoaging – things like wrinkles, dark spots and thinning skin
  • Dr. LaReau noted that most sunscreens are made up of either physical or chemical ingredients, and the other ingredients listed are preservatives or vehicles for application (lotion, spray, roll-on)

Whether it comes in the form of an oil or a white lotion, this all-important substance is a staple of the summer months. Lugging it around to sunny beaches and boardwalks, not all of us appreciate just how crucial this solution is to our skin’s health – and even fewer of us know what to look for to achieve optimal sun protection.

Sunscreen helps to prevent the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the skin. There are two types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA and UVB, said Dr. Amanda LaReau, a dermatologist at Derick Dermatology in Barrington and Crystal Lake, Illinois and a resident physician at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“UVA generally penetrates the skin more deeply and is known to cause photoaging – things like wrinkles, dark spots and thinning skin,” noted Dr. LaReau. “UVB is known to be the culprit for getting sunburns and skin cancer. So when we don’t wear sunscreen, we’ll have less protection from ultraviolet radiation from damaging our skin.”

Moreover, depending on personal preference, you also have a choice between using either a physical sunscreen, which is often referred to as a sunblock, or a chemical one. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, chemical sunscreens are issued a drug identification number (DIN) by Health Canada and are the most common sunscreens on the market. Physical sunscreens, on the other hand, are issued a natural product number (NPN). The main ingredients in physical blockers are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

“If you think of lifeguards and [how] they used to put the white paste on their nose, so that’s what we’re doing with the physical blockers,” expanded Dr. LaReau. “It’s like clothing, you put it on your skin and it reflects the light; it’s just as a cover. If the sun hits your skin and you have the physical ingredients, you kind of have a layering of rocks that will deflect the harmful rays.” She added, “The chemical ones, they work by absorbing the sun’s rays (they are not as visible as the physical ones and absorb better into the skin), so when they absorb the sun, they break down themselves, but at least they take the energy away from your skin getting the harmful rays.”

Dr. LaReau noted that most sunscreens are made up of either physical or chemical ingredients, and the other ingredients listed are preservatives or vehicles for application (lotion, spray, roll-on). Physical ingredients that you should look for in a sunscreen are zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide – two physical filters that are photostable (they won’t break down when exposed to the sunlight) and are less likely to cause irritation or an allergic reaction to the skin, added Dr. LaReau. Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, can have different amounts of a variety of chemical ingredients combined together, based on a company’s choosing.

“There’s not one [chemical ingredient] that’s as good as a physical blocker,” Dr. LaReau stated, adding that physical sunscreens may be preferable for people with sensitive skin, eczema or skin allergies, “as they are less allergenic and less irritating to the skin.”

With chemical sunscreens, if you see avobenzone on the package, make sure that it has other ingredients to stabilize it.

“When you see avobenzone as an ingredient, usually there’s something called octocrylene, because that needs to be put together in order for the sunscreen to be stable,” emphasized Dr. LaReau. “And if they’re not, even if you put the sunscreen on, it’ll just break down when the sun hits it and it’s like you were not wearing anything.”

People with oily skin may prefer a chemical sunscreen with oil soluble ingredients to a physical one, as it absorbs better.Dr. LaReau listed a number of common mistakes people make with sunscreen, which include not choosing a variety that is water-resistant when going swimming or sweating excessively, not reapplying sunscreen at least every two hours or immediately after swimming, or excessive sweating (time and water will break down sunscreen), not checking the expiration date on sunscreen (wearing an out-of-date product is like wearing nothing at all), applying too little sunscreen to exposed areas and choosing a sunscreen that is less than an SPF 30.

“SPF (sun protection factor) relates to UVB, because the way that they develop SPF is to see how long it takes for someone’s skin to burn,” informed Dr. LaReau. “If I go outside and it takes me ten minutes to start getting red [without sunscreen], then if I have put on a sunscreen with an SPF of 30, when I go outside…it takes me 30 times as long, so it’s the amount of time of protection. So, instead of 10 minutes, if I’ve got on an SPF of 30, it’s 30 times ten, so then it’s 300 minutes or five hours that I have protection for.”

Another big mistake that people make is putting on sunscreen too late.

“If you apply chemical sunscreen while you are already outside, it”s too late, because it takes 30 minutes for that chemical sunscreen to actually work,” elaborated Dr. LaReau. “It needs to be absorbed into your skin to protect you.”

Moreover, it is not only important to be especially diligent with sunscreen application after being in the water, it is also necessary to take precautions even when near water and sand.

“Water and sand reflect the damaging rays of the sun, so that increases your change of sunburn,” continued Dr. LaReau. “People on the beach are getting not only the radiation from above from the sun, they’re getting all the radiation that bounces back up from the sand and the water.”

Dr. LaReau emphasized that everyone, no matter if you are fair or dark skinned, needs to wear sunscreen.

“People with lighter skin probably need more protection, because they started out with less [pigment] to begin with,” explained Dr. LaReau. “But everyone can get the damaging effects of UVA and UVB, so everyone starts to look old, everyone has a chance to get skin cancer, everyone has a chance to be sunburned, so it doesn’t matter how dark you are, you should still be wearing sunscreen.”

Lastly, it is never too early – or too late – to start slathering on the good stuff.

“Even if I was an older person, I wouldn’t forget to put on my sunscreen, because you’ll still be getting the harmful rays from the sun,” reiterated Dr. LaReau. “Older skin has already accumulated sun damage from over the years, but it’s never too late to start sun protection, especially nowadays that people are living longer and spending more time outdoors, so preventing ongoing skin damage will be an important part of a healthy lifestyle.”

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