Do Sunscreens Really Work?
By Jamie L.W. Davis, MD, F.A.A.D. Board Certified Dermatologist
Make no mistake about it, sunscreens work. And they are thoroughly tested before they can get the SPF rating they claim. They have also stood the test of time as effective at preventing sunburn and preventing skin cancer. They also help prevent premature ageing and who doesn’t love that?!
There is just no reason good enough to avoid sunscreens or other forms of sun protection. So why do people get the idea that sunscreens don’t work or could actually be more harmful than sun exposure itself?
The controversy comes for several reasons:
1. No sunscreen works when it is left in the bottle. Rule #1: Use it! Start in Spring! Better yet, use it every day of the year.
2. Sunscreens wear off if not re-applied every couple of hours. You can’t just put it on and forget it. So reapply, reapply, reapply!
3. Use a high SPF if you are fair skinned or if you tend to forget to reapply. The higher SPFs give you a little more TIME between applications. SPF is a measure of TIME to burn (SPF 30 = 30 times longer to burn, SPF 60 = 60 times longer to burn, etc). So higher SPF means longer protection, which is a good thing. SPF 30 should be the minimum you use. The newer formulations give you the extra protection without the extra “yuck” factor! A high SPF sweat-resistant formula is great for sports or water activities.
4. Sunscreens don’t work if you put them on too late. If you put them on AFTER you’ve already been in the sun for an hour, the burn has already started. Apply sunscreen at least one hour before stepping outside.
5. Sunscreens can break down once they absorb light (i.e. they are doing their job), which is another reason they need to be reapplied.
6. They don’t work if you don’t use ENOUGH. You need ONE FULL OUNCE to cover an adult body (shot glass full). That’s like a third of an average tube, who does that?
7. Some people are allergic to certain sunscreen ingredients. Sensitivity to sunscreens is usually due to:
- Chemical UV absorbers (e.g., Octinoxate)
- Preservatives (e.g., parabens)
So what do you do if you are allergic? Use physical sunscreens (zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide). These are not absorbed, but act as a barrier on top of the skin. So they are easier to rub off. Be sure to reapply physical sunscreens at least every two hours. Sun protective clothing (hat, sunglasses, long sleeve shirts, etc) is a great option if you can’t find a sunscreen you like.
8. There are rumors that sunscreens cause cancer, but there is no evidence of this. However, excessive sun exposure is well known to cause cancer. If you still object on these grounds, at least use sun protective clothing or opt for a physical sunscreen.
9. We all need Vitamin D. And yes, the skin manufactures it in the presence of natural sunlight. But you can get adequate amounts from nutritious dietary sources, such as fish oils, salmon, tuna in oil, as well as dietary supplements. There is no need to ruin your skin in order to get Vitamin D.
10. The rationale I find most disturbing is “I don’t need sunscreen, I have a base tan from a tanning bed.” Any tan is harmful to the skin, especially one obtained in a tanning bed. But the fact is that tanning beds contain only the tanning rays. The sun contains the burning rays too and for this reason a base tan is not protective against a sun burn. The bottom line: ALWAYS use sun protection.
Make this a sunburn-free Spring!
Reprinted with permission by Dr. Davis. Uptown Dermatology & Skin Spa is the dermatologist office and spa services I personally frequent. If interested in services, please call 612.455.3200