Is Your Sunscreen Effective?

Summer is on the horizon, so now is the best time to think about how you will protect your skin. The general plan may be that you intend to wear sunscreen every time you go out for a day in the sun. This is the bare minimum. As your trusted dermatologist, Dr. Smith would like to hear that you’re already wearing sunscreen every day. Still, the question remains, is your sunscreen even doing its job? Let’s take a look.

Are you Wearing Broad Spectrum Sunscreen?

SPF is the most common aspect of sunscreen that influences purchases. You may decide that a sunscreen product is right for you based solely on this number. SPF stands for sun protection factor. Some people purposely choose low SPF because they want to get a base tan “safely.” Let’s clear this up quickly. There is no such thing as a safe tan. Sure, if you don’t burn, your risk of melanoma may not be as high as someone who’s had multiple blistering burns. That said, every person’s DNA is different so there is no telling how high your risk would be from that base tan. Some people instinctively choose the highest SPF to get the very best protection against sunburn possible. What needs to be understood is that SPF is only part of the equation. Sunscreen with SPF lower than 15 carries a warning that protection extends only against burns, not against skin cancer. Then,

  • SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97% of UVB rays
  • SPF 50 sunscreens about 98% of UVB rays

What about broad-spectrum though? This is a term that dermatologists and skin cancer organizations encourage people to look for when purchasing sunscreen. The reason is that sunlight carries both UVB and UVA ultraviolet rays. UVA permeates through cloud layers and the ozone layer. It is a form of ultraviolet light that can age the skin and cause long-term damage that contributes to skin cancer risks. For the best protection, look beyond SPF. Look for broad-spectrum protection.

Going Further

Because SPF is such a common measure of a sunscreen product’s efficacy, people make a common and critical error. What often happens is a person purchases a high SPF sunscreen. They apply it when they get to their sunny destination (sometimes allowing a little time to get that base tan). To apply, they put a small dollop of sunscreen in their hand and disperse it over certain areas of the body, like the arms or the chest. This is not enough. For adequate protection, it is necessary to apply an ounce of sunscreen across the body. All parts of the body that will see sunlight. An additional 1/2 teaspoon should then be applied to the face. Regardless of the SPF of your sunscreen, if you’re not applying enough, you’re not protected. If you want to know what an ounce looks like, fill a shot glass with sunscreen.

Going Further Again

You understand SPF better now. Generally, dermatologists recommend the use of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30, applied as we just mentioned. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the eye area. What else could there be? Reapplication! One of the other big mistakes that people make when applying sunscreen, besides not applying enough and not covering the entire area of exposed skin, is that they do not reapply. A common mistake we see is people get high SPF sunscreen and apply it once, at the beginning (or middle) of their day in the sun. It is a common misperception to think that high SPF sunscreen will protect the skin for many hours. A sunburn will indicate otherwise. Regardless of SPF, sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours. If you sweat or swim, you need to reapply after getting wet.

Don’t let sunscreen mistakes cost you your healthy, attractive skin. Use sunscreen properly and also schedule annual skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist. In addition to skin cancer screenings, Dr. Smith offers cosmetic services that correct the signs of sun damage. To schedule a visit in Lake Charles, contact us at 337. 477.0011.

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