Medical Monday: The Ten Commandments of Sun Protection

6. When choosing a daily sunscreen, choose one with both UVA and UVB (i.e., broad spectrum) coverage and at least SPF30 if you have dark skin or SPF40 to 50 if you have light skin. Ultraviolet B contributes to the redness of sunburns and to skin aging, but it is dangerous as well, because it decreases immune surveillance of the skin. (Immune cells of the skin monitor for the development of precancerous and cancerous lesions. Lowered immunity means a lower degree of protection from skin cancers.)

7. There are two basic types of sunscreens:

Mineral sunscreens (physical blockers)

They physically block ultraviolet radiation.  Active ingredients include zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

Chemical sunscreens

They contain special chemicals that absorb and neutralize UV radiation—oxybenzone, avobenzone, padimate O,PABA, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, homosalate, octisalate, octocrylene, octinoxate.

8. Many different types of sunscreen products are now available. Choose one that matches your daily activities and lifestyle.

For face: consider UVA/UVB (broad spectrum) coverage higher than SPF30.

Many facial moisturizers that contain sunscreen are available; they suffice for regular daily use if the majority of your day is spent indoors and out of direct sunlight.

Choose a non-comedogenic (non-pore-clogging) sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide if you have acne-prone skin or if you experience skin irritation with other chemical-containing sunscreens. Consult your doctor if sunscreens cause persistent significant skin irritation, or if you believe that you have a sunscreen allergy.

Consider using powder-based products containing mineral sunscreens that may be applied over moisturizer or make-up. Tinted (skin-colored) products are available.

For lips: consider lip-balm containing SPF30 and above.

For body: consider UVA/UVB (broad spectrum) coverage greater than SPF50.

—lotions, creams, and gels usually offer more protection than sprays.
consider using SPF30-50 UV-blocking articles of clothing as an alternative to sunscreen.

9. What about sun protection for sports and outdoor activities? For water sports, consider a wetsuit, UV-proof (SPF50) water jersey or a rash guard.  Other sun-exposed areas require special sunscreens that will stay on in the water or after sweating. They need to be reapplied often, especially after sweating, toweling off, or after extended periods of time when skin is immersed in water.

Water-resistant sunblocks: SPF is maintained after 40 minute’s water immersion.

Very water-resistant sunscreens: With these, SPF is maintained after 80 minutes’ water immersion.

10. Protect your eyes! Wear sunglasses.

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  • Dr. Anetta Reszko June 6, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Coconut oil is quickly gaining reputation of a natural super food. Health websites and blogs that tout natural alternatives are promoting pure, organic coconut oil as a cure for a number of ailments.
    Known health benefits of coconut oil relate to:
    1. the high content of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are direct precursors of ketone bodies that may have therapeutic effects on brain disorders like epilepsy and potentially Alzheimer’s.
    2. anti-microbial properties. Almost 50% of the fatty acids in coconut oil is the 12-carbon lauric acid. Both lauric acid and its main metabolite monolaurin kill harmful pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi.

    Many people use coconut oil for its cosmetic purposes to improve the health and appearance of their skin and hair. Some studies on individuals with dry skin show that coconut oil can improve the moisture and lipid content of the skin.
    Only a single study (*) evaluated the effectiveness of the coconut oil as a sunscreen. Estimated effectiveness is only about “20% resistance to the sun’s ultraviolet rays”. By comparison sun block with SPF of 30 blocks 96.7% of UV radiation. Coconut oil should NOT be used as a substitute for sunscreen.

    The issue of intolerance to various skin care products, including sunscreens, is a common issue that I encounter in my clinical practice.
    I commonly utilize a dual approach to patients with product intolerance:
    1. Diagnose/treat underlying skin condition and restore normal skin barrier. Some skin diseases such as rosacea, sun/actinic damage with numerous pre-cancers, atopic dermatitis, irritant and/or allergic contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis may present as skin sensitivity. Treating these underlying conditions improve structure and function of the skin reducing overall sensitivity.
    2. Choose cosmetics and skin care products that work. In general look for products that are non-comedogenic (do not clog pores) and avoid chemical sun screens. You might also consider sun screen in powdered form. It is always a good idea to test a new product by applying it to the inner forearm for a few days in the row. Please see prior installments of my blog for details.
    In my blog I try to refrain from naming individual brands/products and discuss general principles of skin care. That said, I do realize how difficult it is to find “the right” product. Below is the list of sunscreens that I found most tolerable for patients with sensitive skin.
    EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46
    MDSolarSciences Mineral Tinted Crème SPF 30 Broad Spectrum UVA-UVB
    Skin Soothing Mineral Sunscreen with Olive Polyphenols SPF 40

    Have a happy and healthy sun protected summer!

    Dr. Reszko

    (*) Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jul;5(10):164-73. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.91114.
    Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation.
    Korać RR1, Khambholja KM.

  • Marcia June 4, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    Every sunscreen I have tried from the cheap to the more expensive, has made me break out in itching and a a rash. Is coconut oil a good substitute?

  • Isabela June 2, 2015 at 11:54 am

    Thank you for your advice Dr. Reszko. I really liked the info about Ultraviolet B and “immune surveillance of the skin.” It’s very interesting.

  • Patricia. Moscatello June 1, 2015 at 7:46 am

    Great article, clear and concise.
    I will pass it on to all my nearest and dearest.