Smart Tips by Dr. Goldburt: Fun in the Sun

sunNow that summer’s here, you want to have fun outdoors but may not be sure what SPF to use, what the difference is among sunscreens, and how to enjoy the sun without damaging your skin.

What is SPF and how much do you need?

Say you decide on SPF 15.  What that really means is it allows you to stay out in the sun 15 times longer than without it before you start to burn.

Think of it this way: if you start to burn in the sun after 10 minutes’ exposure, putting on SPF 15 would delay the onset of a sunburn to 150 minutes.  In order to decide on which SPF to use, you should take into account your skin tone.

SPF 35 or more is advised for fair skin which burns easily, SPF 25 or above for medium or average skin tones, and at least SPF 20 for tan and dark skin tones.  Even if you tan easily without burning, your skin experiences burning and damage due to light exposure.  You may not be able to see the burns or irritations, but this does not mean that the damage does not exist.  That is why it is necessary to use a sunscreen with an SPF level of 20 or above for both tan and dark skin tones at all times when outdoors.

Which sunscreens should I use?

SPF blocks UVB rays only, while UVA rays do not cause sunburns but rather lead to wrinkles and up to 90% of skin changes associated with aging.  You’ll therefore want to use “broad-spectrum” or “multi-spectrum” protection for both UVB and UVA.  For protection against UVA, you will want to make sure the sunscreen contains at least one of the following ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, sulisobenzone, ecamsule, titatnium dioxide, or zinc oxide.

Limit using spray sunscreens, tanning oil sunscreens, and combination bug repellent sunscreens.  Reduce the risk of inhaling spray chemicals, and stick to lotion sunscreens that you rub in.  Tanning oils usually contain little protection from both UVB and UVA, with typically very low SPF counts, which increases your risk of burning and inflicting sun damage.  Unless you are outdoors in a bug heavy environment, it is best to stick to normal sunscreen to avoid the chemicals in bug repellent sunscreens.

If you plan to go in the water, use water-resistant sunscreens.  However, make sure to reapply regularly after emerging from the water as they are in no way waterproof.  Their SPF protection stays effective for only forty minutes after being in the water.

For kids, use sunscreens with an SPF 20 or higher.  Children, as well as people who have sensitive skin (or skin conditions such as rosacea), should avoid certain chemicals in sunscreens, such as para-aminobenzoic acid – PABA – and “benzenes” oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, or dioxybenzone.  Ingredients less likely to irritate sensitive people’s and children’s skin are titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.

Note: no matter the SPF, or how long lasting the sunscreen claims to provide protection, reapply the sunscreen regularly – at least every two hours, and especially if you get wet or sweat often.

A common misconception about sunscreen is that you only need to wear it on a sunny day.  Not true!  On a gray, overcast day, UV rays can still cause skin damage.  Therefore, wear sunscreen whenever you are out during the day.

Is there anything else I should do?

Yes.  No matter how much you use, sunscreen will not fully protect you from the sun.  In addition to wearing sunscreens, you should wear a hat, and sunglasses to protect your eyes.  Stay in the shade, and try to stay inside when the UV radiation levels are highest – typically 10am to 4pm.