Sunscreen helps prevent premature aging and skin cancer: How to pick the best one

Don’t get burned this summer.  

As many Americans enjoy the summer outside in the hot sun, experts remind that sunscreen protects the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, but which one to choose? 

“Seeking shade, wearing protective clothing — including a lightweight and long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection — and using sunscreen are all important behaviors to reduce your risk of skin cancer,” according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).  

“In fact, it is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  Sunscreen can also help prevent premature skin aging, such as wrinkles and age spots, caused by too much unprotected UV exposure.”  

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen with broad-spectrum protection that protects against UVA and UVB rays, one that is SPF 30 or higher and is also water resistant. 

“SPF” stands for sun protective factor, but many people think the number relates to the time of solar exposure, but this is not correct, said Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine and a former president of the American Academy of Dermatology.  

“For example, many consumers believe that, if they normally get sunburn in one hour, then an SPF 15 sunscreen allows them to stay in the sun 15 hours (i.e., 15 times longer) without getting sunburn. This is not true because SPF is not directly related to time of solar exposure but to amount of solar exposure,” the Food Drug and Administration (FDA) said. 

The SPF number tells how long the sun’s UV radiation will take to cause a sunburn when using sunscreen (as directed) compared to the amount of time without sunscreen, Rigel said. 

“Because SPF values are determined from a test that measures protection against sunburn caused by UVB radiation, SPF values only indicate a sunscreen’s UVB protection,” the FDA said. 

Rigel encourages SPF of 50 or higher because many people only put 25-50% of the required amount of sunscreen to reach the SPF amount on the label, so if they are applying SPF 15 or SPF 30, they might be getting less protection than expected. 

He recommends applying sunscreen on all exposed skin, taking special care to not forget the nose as approximately one-third of all skin cancers are on the nose because it “sticks out.” 

“Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their entire body. Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head,” the AAD said. 

Rigel said most people will need to reapply sunscreen every 90 minutes but sweating or swimming may require more frequent intervals.  

He told Fox News no sunscreen is “waterproof” because all sunscreens will wash off, but sunscreens are labeled “water resistant” or “very water resistant.” 

“The labels are required to state whether the sunscreen remains effective for 40 minutes or 80 minutes when swimming or sweating, and all sunscreens must provide directions on when to reapply,” the FDA said on their website. 

Rigel explained “water-resistant” sunscreens are rated effective for 40 minutes while “very water-resistant” are effective for 80 minutes.  

He recommends the best sunscreen to use is the one you will use on a regular basis.  

He said about 50% sunscreens are sold as sprays, but although they more easily cover more surface area, he says non-spray formulations are often more effective because sometimes it’s difficult to tell what part of the skin the spray is covered compared to lotions, where people can be more accurate.  

But ultimately, he says it’s down to personal preference, but reminds sunscreens alone may not protect the skin

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends avoiding the sun rays when they are strongest, which is usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. 

“If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade,” the AAD said. 

Dermatologists also recommend wearing clothing to cover the skin, such a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection. 

And don’t just wear sunscreen when the sun’s out – apply sunscreen daily if you are going to be outside, because the sun emits harmful UV rays all year. 

“Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate the clouds,” the AAD said. 

And what if you get a sunburn? 

Rigel suggests cooling lotions containing menthol and 1% hydrocortisone cream to treat inflammation as well as aspirin to treat any swelling, redness or discomfort.  

Normally the skin’s epidermal cells turn over in 28 days, but we don’t see the skin turnover because they normally slough off in the shower. But when we have a sunburn, the skin turns over in 5-7 days because the injured skin cells don’t have time to separate, leading to visible peeling of skin, Rigel said. 

He said a sunburn will typically heal fine as long there is no blistering, which is a sign of a second-degree burn. 

A second-degree burn that gives blistering may lead to scarring and the number of blistering episodes directly correlates to the risk of developing melanoma later in life, Rigel said. 

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