The Spring Break season is upon us and as a board certified dermatologist I am often asked by my patients about what to look for when choosing a sunscreen.
When looking for a sunscreen I always recommend a mineral based product that will create a physical barrier on the skin, particularly sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. In contrast, the chemical based sunscreens (long names include avobenzone, octocrylene, ecamsule, etc.) must be absorbed into the skin to provide sun protection. Also good to know – the mineral sunscreens provide almost immediate protection while chemical sunscreens need to be applied approximately 30 minutes prior to going outside in order to be effective.
Zinc is the only ingredient that I use for my children’s sunscreen. In fact, the FDA recommends zinc as the main sunscreen ingredient for babies.
Zinc alone can be very chalky and white so it is important to look for the words “micronized.” This is a process whereby the mineral particles are made finer and more cosmetically elegant (but does not decrease the sunscreen efficacy).
A few other good tips to keep your skin safe while enjoying the beautiful weather:
- Look for broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher
- Sun protective clothing and wide brimmed hats can be stylish and comfortable
- Do not “lay out” to get a base tan: this only provides an SPF of 4 and falsely makes one think they are protected
- UV blocking sunglasses and lip balm are imperative (ocular melanoma and lip cancers are on the rise!)
- Remember, there are statistically more skin cancers on the left side of the face and body due to chronic sun exposure from driving- use extra protection on the left side and think about investing in UV tinted windows
- Examine your skin head to toe once a month and see your dermatologist yearly for a skin exam
As a board certified dermatologist, I can assure my patients that NOT using sunscreen increases the risk of sun damage and skin cancer.