by Stefanie Powers
Summer is here, and sun worshipers are out in full force. While a tan looks wonderful, the effects of the sun on your skin can be devastating, including burning, premature wrinkles, sunspots and cancer. If you’re out in the sun without sunscreen, you’re looking for trouble.
SPF stands for sun protection factor. A sunscreen with SPF 30 will protect you from around 96.7% of UVB rays, whereas an SPF of 50 means protection from about 98% of UVB rays. Anything beyond SPF 50 makes little difference in terms of risk of sun damage, and no sunscreens offer 100% protection from UVB rays.
A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Broad-spectrum sunscreens have become the norm in recent years. Two types of UV light are proven to contribute to the risk for skin cancer: Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength and is associated with skin aging. Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength and is associated with skin burning.
Local dermatologist Kerri Davis-Fontenot, MD, explains that the best sunscreen is SPF 30 or more and broad-spectrum. “Ideally, sunscreen should be a physical/mineral blocker and you can find this by looking for the ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide,” says Dr. Fontenot. “Sunscreen should be worn every day on sun-exposed skin. Reapply every two hours or sooner if you are swimming or sweating. I never leave the house without my sunscreen. Reapplying it throughout the day is made easier with newer cosmetic sunscreens, such as brush-on powders or lightweight moisturizers with sunscreen.”
Dr. Fontenot says there’s no safe amount of time dedicated to sun exposure. “The sun emits harmful UV rays all year long, even on cloudy days. Most people think they need sun exposure for vitamin D absorption, but this can be maintained with a healthy diet and vitamin supplements. And keep in mind that the sun’s rays are the strongest from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.”
If you desire some color and still want protection, you’re out of luck. “Unfortunately, there is no ‘safe tan,’” Dr. Fontenot explains. “If you tan, you are damaging your skin. This in turn increases your risk of skin cancer, in addition to signs of aging such as wrinkles and pigmentation. Self-tanners and spray tans are safer options to achieve some color. There are even sunscreens that contain bronzer, which is a great product to both protect you from sun damage and give you that sun-kissed color.”
Kids love being out in the sun, but they must be careful. “It is ideal to avoid direct sun exposure in children younger than six months,” Dr. Fontenot says. “Infants six months and older should wear SPF 30 or more broad-spectrum sunscreen on any sun exposed areas. Hats, long-sleeved shirts/rash guards, pants, wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses should also be used to help protect their skin.”
Indoor lighting can even pose a problem. “More studies are showing that visible light leads to hyperpigmentation or skin darkening,” Dr. Fontenot explains. “Visible light is any light that the human eye can see (ceiling lights, phones, computer screens, TV, sunlight). Conditions such as melasma can be worsened by even this type of indoor light. Tinted sunscreens can help protect someone from both UV and visible light, but needs to be SPF 30 or more.”