SUMMERTIME! Long hot days, BBQs, beaches…and a great time to update your skin care plan for the season. The most important (dermatology) advice in the summer is to avoid sunburn – pretty obvious, but something many of us preach better than we practice. Aside from causing redness and pain, repeated sunburns or even a few severe episodes is the most important risk factor for skin cancer and photoaging (otherwise known as wrinkles!). Sunlight includes visible light (the colors we see) and other frequencies that we cannot see, like ultraviolet light (UV). However, we can see the effects of UV light on our skin- as sunburn, eventually wrinkles and hopefully not skin cancer. Fortunately, prevention goes a long way and we can reduce these risks by using a good sunscreen every day. It’s like brushing and flossing, for your skin.
There are two classes of sunscreens approved by the FDA: physical blockers and chemical blockers. Physical blockers reflect UV light. Chemical blockers absorb UV light. Physical blocker sunscreens are generally more effective and act more quickly (as soon as they are applied) than chemical blockers (which take about 15-30 minutes to be absorbed into the skin). Recently, concern about unintended toxic effects of certain sunscreens have been raised. Hawaii recently banned over-the-counter chemical sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate because they may damage living coral reefs. Avobenzone based chemical sunscreens were not banned. Physical blockers formulated with titanium or zinc nanoparticles have also raised concerns about absorption into the skin and other parts of the body, though most experts believe these products are safe. There are great new “non-nano” sunscreens available. Regardless of which sunscreen you choose, look for some key words on the label: broad spectrum protection against UVA and UVB and SPF 15 or more. SPF values indicate how much UVB exposure (amount, not time; the sun is “stronger” in the middle of the day) is needed to cause sunburn compared to no sunscreen. Sunscreen is regulated by the FDA like a medication. If a sunscreen is not “Broad Spectrum SPF 15 or more”, it must carry a FDA warning of “Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.” The FDA also requires an expiration date on the label. If you are really interested in this topic, there is more detailed information on the FDA site.
At Savola Aesthetic Dermatology Center we follow the American Academy of Dermatology and recommend using a broad spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen every day for the most reliable protection (source). And remember, reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours if you are getting wet. Sunscreens are water-resistant, not waterproof. Our favorite sunscreens are high quality physical blockers such as Elta MD. We love these because they use zinc oxide for a strong physical barrier, but still feel smooth and light. Our team is happy to answer any questions you have about sunscreen or our other skin care recommendations.