• Beth Dougherty, N.P.

What sunscreen are you using?

Now that spring is officially upon us, it is time to start thinking about sun protection. No matter if you are heading out for an afternoon run, watching a baseball game, or playing round of golf, I recommend you be prepared with the right sunscreen to avoid a spring sunburn. There are many great sunscreens to choose from, however there are a few critical ingredients that you should be looking for when purchasing a sunscreen.

Sunscreens are formulated to help reflect or absorb UVA and or UVB radiation. When looking at the active ingredient labels on sunscreens you should know there are chemical and physical blocks. Chemical sunscreens (organic filters) are used to protect the skin from UVB radiation, although some chemical sunscreens protect the skin from both UVB and UVA radiation. Many of the chemical sunscreens are not stable in the sunlight on their own, and are therefore combined with other chemicals in order to stabilize the ingredients. Some examples of chemical sunscreens include Octinoxate, Cinoxate, Oxybenzone, Dioxybenzone, Avobenzone, Octocrylene, Octisalate, and Trolamine salicylate.

Physical sunscreens (inorganic filters) are mineral compounds that reflect both UVA and UVB radiation. Physical sunscreens are considered to be “broad spectrum” which is the term one should look for when purchasing a sunscreen. Examples of physical sunscreens are Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. I personally use and recommend physical sunscreens. My favorite sunscreens are Elta UV Clear (for the face), Elta UV Pure (face and body), and Vanicream sunscreens for sensitive skin.

Regardless of which sunscreen you choose chemical or physical sunscreen, the sun protective factor (SPF) is also important. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a SPF of 30 or higher, and an indication that the sunscreen offers “broad spectrum” protection. Studies have shown that sunscreens with a SPF of greater than 30 do not offer significantly more protection. It is advised to apply the sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going out in the sun, to reapply after swimming or sweating, and to use sunscreen in conjunction with sun protective clothing.

One interesting fact I came across while reading is that measurable amounts of sunscreen have now been detected in aquatic ecosystems, and have been shown to bleach coral reefs. So far the data are limited, however certain areas (the Hawaiian Islands for example) are strongly recommending that swimmers use physical blocks to protect their fragile ecosystems. Stay tuned for more information on this topic as more studies are done.

Beth Dougherty, N.P.

Dermatology PA


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