This week, Dr. Audrey Klenke, a plastic surgeon at Hilton Head Hospital, discusses sunscreen.
Question: Do sunscreen topical lotions that run into the 100s really work? Are they better than what used to be the industry’s highest standard of 30?
Answer: Sunscreen is a topic often surrounded by questions and concerns from well-meaning, healthy consumers who want to be educated and do the “right” thing.
We have some answers, but we also have many unanswered quandaries that will be resolved with research and time. In the meantime, here is what we know.
SPF, or “sun protection factor,” indicates the amount of protection a sunscreen offers against UVB, which is the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn.
SPF is best understood by a graph, but the bottom line is that an SPF of 30 blocks nearly 97 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. As the SPF number increases, there is thought to be additional protection, but it is very slight. The FDA has not determined that an SPF greater than 50 has any added benefits.
The American Cancer Society recommends sunscreen in order to prevent skin cancer, including squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. The problem is that many sunscreens do not block the harmful rays of the sun known as UVA radiation, which can harm the skin cells and increase the risk of skin cancer. If the bottle says “Broad Spectrum,” it means it protects against UVA and UVB, so read carefully.
Consumers are also cognizant about ingredients. Suffice it to say the FDA has rated both titanium dioxide and zinc oxide as safe and effective, so consider searching for these.
There are a few keys to proper application. First, it takes about 1 ounce to cover an entire body and application should start 30 minutes prior to sun exposure and include nooks and crannies — even areas that are covered by swim suits.
Sunscreens can no longer be described as waterproof, but rather water resistant. This should remind us all that after exposure to the water, it is necessary to reapply.
In addition, one should reapply after about two hours of sun exposure. Try to avoid the harshest rays between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Make sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and light fabric sleeves and pants when possible.
It only takes about five minutes of sun exposure for our bodies to produce Vitamin D – additional exposure is unnecessary.
Tanning is not better than burning in the sense that all sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. A tan means your skin cells have produced more melanin in order to protect their precious DNA.
Don’t let “But doc, the damage is already done!” be your excuse. We can’t turn back the hands of time, but we can certainly limit additional risk so slather up and protect yourself.