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Sunscreen and You

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There are some things that we automatically reach for as we head out the door each day: wallet, keys, cell phone, and possibly sunglasses.  Rarely is sunscreen on the top of the list.  However, studies show that daily use of sunscreen helps reduce the risk for skin cancer.  UVA rays are the ones that age our skin and UVB are the rays that cause the skin to burn, increasing the risk of cancer.

Many people believe that if it is cloudy they will not burn.  The UVB rays are capable of penetrating clouds without a problem.  Even on days that are overcast and cloudy you still need to apply sunscreen.  80% of the UV rays will penetrate the clouds and can cause potential damage.

Sunscreen comes in a variety; creams, oils, and sprays-both wet and dry.  They also have varying SPF.  SPF stands for sun protection factor.  If you multiply the strength of your sunscreen by 15 it will give you the estimated amount of time you can stay out in the sun.  However, if you are swimming or sweating you will need to reapply often at least every two hours.  So if you use sunscreen with SPF 15 you can theoretically stay in the sun 225 minutes. The higher SPF filters more of the UVB rays. Your best results are from a broad spectrum sunscreen.  This will block more of both the UVA and UVB rays.  The average fair skinned person can stay in the sun 15 minutes before burning.  SPF of 15 is the minimum recommendation for protection against aging and skin cancer but most dermatologists suggest SPF 30 sunscreen.  The higher number SPF lasts the same amount of time but it blocks more of the rays thus allowing more time in the sun before damage will theoretically occur.

Where do you apply sunscreen? To any part of your body that is not covered by clothing.  The most commonly missed areas are the tops of the feet, the ears (especially men who wear ball caps), and the lips.  Skin cancer can form on the lips so you need to make sure to use a lip balm that has SPF 30 or higher on your lips.

Sunscreen is sold in a variety of options, so how do you choose which one is best for you?  Creams are generally preferred on dry skin and on the face; sticks are nice for the face.  For areas with hair (scalp or chest) a gel works best.  Many of us like to use the spray sunscreen due to the convenience of it.  However, you must make sure that the skin is coated and all exposed areas are covered.  Interestingly, current FDA regulations do not pertain to the spray sunscreens.  They continue to evaluate spray sunscreen to ensure safety and effectiveness.

As our lifestyles change and the demand for convenience increases sunscreen is now offered in combination with other products such as insect repellent and foundation or other cosmetics.  It is important to remember that if using cosmetics with SPF you still need to reapply them every two hours.  The American Academy of Dermatology does not suggest the insect repellent combination because sunscreen needs to be applied generously and every two hours whereas insect repellent needs to be used sparingly and less frequently.

As parents we try to protect our children from all harm and this should include too much sun exposure.  Special sunscreen is made for children to decrease the sensitivity to the product while still maintaining the protection.  It is important to remember that children under 6 months should ideally not be exposed to the sun’s rays.  Sunscreens with zinc oxide tend to cause less irritation in babies. Just as it is important for adults to stay well hydrated during sun exposure the same is true for children.  It is extremely important to make sure your infant drinks plenty of fluids to stay hydrated.  If your baby gets fussy or has redness on the skin take the child indoors!!

What do you do if you have a sunburn??  Depending upon the severity of the burn the American Academy of Dermatologists makes the following recommendations:

  • Treat the sunburn as quickly as possible
  • Cool baths to reduce the heat
  • Moisturizer to ease the discomfort. Immediately following the bath, leave a little water on your skin and apply the moisturizer to trap the water in your skin
  • Drink extra water! A sunburn draws the fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of your body, drinking water helps prevents dehydration.
  • Aspirin, Ibuprofen, and hydrocortisone cream are all over the counter pain relievers that can help. Refrain from using any product that has “caine” in the name such as benzocaine, solarcaine etc.
  • If your skin has blistered you have a second degree burn. Allow them to heal untouched—refrain from “popping” the blister.  The blister formed to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.  Let your body do its job!
  • If the blister covers a large area or you have chills, headaches or a fever, seek immediate medical care.

For more information from the American Academy of Dermatologist please go to this link:

Another great article can be found at This blog is written by one of the skin experts at Johnson Dermatology.  Dr. Sandy Johnson’s advice: be SunSmart!! Avoid the peak hours of sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm, seek shade, wear sun protective clothing, sun glasses, a wide brimmed hat, and use a lot of sunscreen.

You want to have fun in the sun but you also want to be kind to your skin.  It is after all the body’s largest organ—treat it with respect and love and you will be amazed at the results! Stay Healthy!!

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