Find Out Everything You Need to Know About Using Sunscreen

Cancer Care, Preventive Service, Skin Steward Health Care

Steward Health Care and Steward Medical Group Internal Medicine Physician Joyce Alase, MD, answers the most frequently asked questions from her patients about sunscreen.

Q. Which sunscreen is best to use?
A.
I tell my patients to buy a sunscreen that has a minimum of SPF 15, which contains the minimum FDA approved coverage for UV ray protection. It is also important to look for ingredients such as Zinc oxide, Titanium dioxide, or Mexoryl for protection against UVA rays. With those recommendations, I do alert my patients that no sunscreen can block all UV rays (A+ B). Hence it is essential to add protective gear.

Q. What is the difference between SPF 15, SPF 30, and SPF 50+ sunscreens?
A. SPF stands for sun protection factor, which is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect the skin from UVB rays,  which are the kind of radiation that causes sunburn, damaged skin, and contribute to skin cancers.  There is a notion that the higher the number, the more protection one is receiving.  SPF 15 versus SPF 30 does not equate to doubling of coverage/protection. SPF 15 blocks about 93 percent of UVB rays versus SPF 30, which blocks about 97 percent of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. Using a higher number technically is just a number as none of the sunscreens offer 100 percent protection. A sunscreen of SPF 30 does the job perfectly fine.

Q. How much sunscreen should someone use, and how often should they apply it?
A.
I recommend using 1 ounce of sunscreen for adults to make sure you’re covering all exposed body parts. An ounce is approximately the size of a golf ball. The general rule is to reapply every two hours when outdoors. It’s important to reapply after swimming or sweating.

Q. Do you recommend using spray sunscreen or lotion?
A.
I recommend using a lotion sunscreen. Lotions allow you to make sure you are using 1 ounce as you can measure it out in your hand. Also, you know you are covering all of your exposed body parts effectively as you rub it in. Spray sunscreens give off a mist effect, and body parts are typically missed causing inadequate coverage.

Q. Besides using sunscreen what other precautions can you take to reduce your risk of skin cancer?
A.
No matter if you’re gardening, taking a walk with friends or spending the day at an amusement park, always wear and pack the necessary sun protection items. Jokingly, I tell my patients, “If you’re going out in the sun, make sure you look like a tourist on vacation.” What I mean by this is to have sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses that wrap around your eyes and lip balm containing SPF 15 or higher packed in your bag. Other precautions I suggest include wearing long-sleeved shirts, darker-colored clothing as it reflects the sun, and seek shade, especially when the sun’s rays are the strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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