With our recent beautiful Minnesota weather and summer quickly approaching, we would like to take time to review with our patients the benefits of regular sunscreen use. It is important for everyone to use a daily sunscreen, regardless of your skin color or race. Regular sunscreen use can help prevent skin cancer by protecting you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, it is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime
So what type of sunscreen should I use?
- We recommend a “broad spectrum” sunscreen, which means that it will protect your skin from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin’s thickest layer, and unprotected exposure can lead to premature skin aging, wrinkling, and suppression of the immune system. UVB rays burn the superficial layers of your skin and it plays a key role in the development of skin cancer.
- Choose a Sun Protective Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. While no sunscreen blocks 100 percent of the harmful UV rays, SPF 30 blocks 97%, SPF 50 blocks 98%, and SPF 100 blocks 99%. It is also important to remember that high-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs.
- Look for water resistant products. There is no sunscreen that is completely water proof. Sunscreen manufacturers can use the term “water resistant” if the sunscreen has been proven to remain effective in water for a period of time, usually 40 or 80 minutes. It is important to reapply sunscreen after swimming.
- We recommend mineral based products that create a physical barrier on the skin. Look for sunscreens containing the ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. The physical blocking sunscreen offers immediate protection from the sun, as opposed to the chemical based sunscreens that must be absorbed into the skin for 30 minutes prior to going outdoors.
- A few brands that we like include Elta MD, Tareen Dermatology SilkShade, Vanicream, CeraVe, and Blue Lizard.
When does my sunscreen expire?
We recommend using sunscreen every day when you are outside, even during the winter and on cloudy days, as the sun emits harmful UV rays year-round. If you are using the correct amount of sunscreen every day, a bottle should not last long. That being said, the FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least 3 years. Some sunscreens will have an expiration date, throw it out once the date has passed. Look for visible signs that the sunscreen is no longer good, including obvious changes to color or consistency.
How much do I need to use?
Most adults need one ounce of sunscreen to fully cover the sun exposed skin. This equates to the amount you could hold in the palm of your hand. Most sunscreen bottles are 3 oz in size, so if using the correct amount, a bottle should only last for about 3 applications. Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of feet, and scalp if you have thinning hair. Don’t forget about your lips- apply a lip balm with SPF at least 15. Left sided skin cancer is more prevalent due to the sun exposure related to driving. Be sure to take extra precautions to protect your skin while driving.
What should I do if I get a sunburn?
We hope that you can avoid getting a sunburn in the first place by wearing proper protection, but in the event of a sunburn, the first thing you should do is get out of the sun and get indoors. Treating the sunburn as soon as you notice it will help to heal damaged skin more quickly. Here are some tips and tricks to soothe and heal the irritated skin:
- Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. Apply a thick moisturizer to damp skin after showering to seal water into your skin. Using a moisturizer containing aloe vera or soy can help soothe inflamed skin.
- You can apply a small amount of over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream to areas that are particularly uncomfortable. Avoid applying “caine” products (like benzocaine), as these can further irritate the skin and cause an allergic reaction
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reducing swelling and discomfort associated with the burn.
- Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
- If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal while taking extra care to protect the sun burned skin. Avoid popping the blister, because the reason it forms is to help heal your skin and protect you from infection. If you develop blistering of the skin, it means that you have a second-degree sunburn.