Commentary: Shedding light on the summer’s best sunscreens
Which sunscreen works best? The one you use.
We’re in the full swing of summer, and with many of my patients hitting the beaches, pools and backyard barbecues, I get a lot of questions about which brand and type of sunscreen to apply. I am always thrilled by the question, as it means that these patients are thinking about sunscreen at all.
Too many of us still don’t know the best methods of preventing skin cancer: staying out of the sun, wearing protective clothing when you’re in the sun and — yes — wearing the proper amount of sunscreen.
The American Assn. of Dermatology advises all of us to apply an ounce — that’s enough to fill a shot glass — of SPF 30 or higher sunscreen over every part of our bodies that will not be covered by clothes a good 15 minutes before going outside. In order for the sunscreen to work most effectively, it must be reapplied every two hours and whenever we dry off after spending time in the water.
Most people only apply 25% to 50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. When they do apply it, it’s generally at the beach or by the pool. The sun doesn’t care whether you’re sitting by your office window or lounging by the Pacific Ocean; ultraviolet rays are still penetrating your skin, putting you at risk of developing skin cancer.
On average, we get 80% to 90% of our lifetime sun exposure before we turn 18 years old, so it’s vital to protect our children’s skin as well.
The advice about selecting sunscreen I do give my patients is that they choose what is called “broad-range” sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Broad-range sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB exposure. Ultraviolet A (long-wave) and ultraviolet B (shortwave) rays affect the skin differently. But for adequate sunburn and skin cancer prevention, we need protection from both types of rays.
I also suggest wearing protective clothing, including cool comfortable clothing that covers your arms, hats and good sunglasses to protect your eyes as well.
I apply an SPF 30 or higher zinc and/or titanium dioxide sunscreen every day, whether I am planning to head to the office, the park or the pool. I reapply every two hours and tend to avoid going outside during peak sun hours. You’ll find that most dermatologists do the same, practicing what we preach to avoid the harmful effects of the sun’s rays.
I’ve been asked what type and what brand I use, and, honestly, I use them all. When it comes to sunscreens, the best one is truly the one that you’re wearing — and wearing correctly.
The writer is a dermatologist at Hoag Hospital.
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