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Sunscreen – Let’s Break It Down!

Sunscreen – Let’s Break It Down!

With Texas summer fast approaching, sunscreen is even more important as we spend time hiking the trails, enjoying our pools, and boating on surrounding lakes and rivers. Why do we say “if you do nothing else for your skin, wear sunscreen”? Sunscreens protect your skin from the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays. Everyone needs protection to help reduce the chance of developing skin cancer.

So, let’s break it down. There are different types of sunscreens – physical and chemical. Both types of sunscreens are characterized by terms like “broad spectrum” and/or an “SPF number”.  There are also different types of damaging rays, like UVA, UVB and to a lessor extent, blue light rays. What does all this mean?

  • Physical sunscreen sits on top of the skin and reflects the sun’s damaging rays. The main ingredients within a physical sunscreen are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. The higher the zinc oxide, the better protected your skin is from harmful rays… BUT zinc oxide is BRIGHT WHITE. Remember that white cream that was lathered on the noses of the beach volleyball players and lifeguards? Yep, that’s zinc oxide. Who wants to go around with a full white face or body all day? Today’s physical sunscreens have come a long way. You can find a physical sunscreen with 40% zinc oxide that has a very minimal tint (think foundation). EltaMD, one of the leading sunscreen manufacturers has also developed a “clear” sunscreen that contains a high percentage of zinc oxide.
  • Chemical sunscreen penetrates the skin and absorbs the UV rays, converting them to heat and releasing them from the body. The active ingredients within a chemical sunscreen are avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone. Chemical sunscreens are clear and thinner in consistency, applying like a lotion.  They can occasionally be more irritating, especially to sensitive skin. Find the right fit for your lifestyle and skin type!
  • Broad Spectrum sunscreen, whether physical or chemical is a must. For a sunscreen to be labeled as “broad spectrum”, it must meet the FDA standards for protection against both UVA and UVB rays. Thus, broad spectrum sunscreen is the best and most comprehensive form of protection! 
  • SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor – how long a sunscreen will provide protection against UVA/UVB rays.  A SPF of 30 will provide 30 times the protection of wearing no sunscreen at all but the duration of protection is what is difficult to accurately predict. Remember, our bodies sweat, which reduces the length of time you are protected. If you jump in the pool or swim in the lake, this also lowers the amount of time you are protected even when wearing “water proof” versions of sunscreen. An SPF of 40 or 50 has a slightly longer protection time but clinicians feel that there is a threshold for duration. No sunscreen has a SFP of 100 and reapplying frequently is the safest and most effective way to protect your skin.
  • UVA/UVB: According to skincancer.org, UVA rays (Ultraviolet A) have a longer wavelength and are associated to skin aging. UBV (Ultraviolet B) have a shorter wavelength and are associated with the burning of skin. Both are damaging to skin cell DNA and can produce genetic defects that lead to skin cancer, as well as premature aging. Continuous UV radiation that leads to sunburn may also develop into melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
  • Blue light rays are now more a part of our lives than ever! Cell phones and computers emit blue light, which can have an effect like that of UVB rays – cell shrinkage, pigmentation and premature aging. There are however, some positives to blue light. Research shows that blue LED light therapy can help treat psoriasis, acne and actinic keratosis but leave that to a professional! Sunscreen is your important tool to prevent any damage that may be caused by blue light.

Who knew that protecting your skin from sun damage held so many factors? The most important things to remember when searching for the right sunscreen is broad spectrum, high zinc content, and an SPF greater than 20. Then consider if tint, water resistance, moisturizing characteristics, and lastly price. Investing in quality sunscreen now can save you from treating a skin cancer later!

For more information contact us today and book your appointment.