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Posted on June 2, 2018 at 9:00 PM


Besides wearing sunscreen when you visit the beach or take a dive in your swimming pool, how important really is sunscreen? Well, up to 90% of the visible damage on your skin can be attributed to sun exposure. In addition to aging the skin, sun exposure substantially increases the likelihood of developing skin cancer, the most common cancer in humans. It is estimated that about 1 in 5 people develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. People who hope to maintain their skin's youth and protect it from cancer, should seriously consider wearing sunscreen regularly.

Sunscreens are usually a white, creamy color, though they can sometimes be slightly tinted. Their primary use is filter out variant forms of UV light. Specifically, they prevent UV lights A and B from penetrating the skin and causing damage. This is why the FDA requested that it be called "sunscreen" rather than "sunblock."

Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a long wavelength, allowing it to penetrate into deeper layers of the skin, causing skin damages such as wrinkles (photoaging) and mutagenic effects in our DNA that can lead to skin cancer. UVA persists throughout the entire day, and can go through glass and clouds, so remember to wear your sunscreen before a drive, even on a cloudy day! 

Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays are strongest between the hours of 10AM-4PM. They're responsible for inducing the production of melanin in your skin, a protein that acts to protect the skin from photodamage. This is also what induces the tanning effect by essentially burning the superficial layer of the skin. Too much exposure to UVB can increase your risk of your skin cancers. 

Nevertheless, not all sunscreens are made alike. For instance, many sunscreens can potentially disrupt hormonal balance and are hazardous to our ocean's wildlife. Additionally, a significant percentage of people are vitamin D deficient, and they need exposure to the sun to produce vitamin D in their bodies. This is why it is important to find a sunscreen that only protects from UVA and UVB. So let's discuss what to look for in your sunscreen: 

What is SPF (sun protection factor)?

Each sunscreen should have an SPF number. This number indicates what ratio of UV light can still penetrate through your skin while the sunscreen is being used. To further explain, an SPF of 30 means that theoretically only 1/30th of sun rays can still penetrate through your skin. An SPF of 15, then, means 1/15th of rays can still penetrate through your skin. In other words, SPF 15 blocks 94% of UV light, while SPF 30 blocks up to 97%, SPF 45 blocks up to 98% and so on. 

Look for a “ broad spectrum sunscreen,” which blocks both UVA and UVB.

There are several types of UV sunscreens, such as chemical (organic) and non- chemical (inorganic). Be cautious of the word “organic,” which has a different implication here then what we're used to in our food. Here, organic is used to discuss organic chemicals versus inorganic minerals.

Organic sunscreens use chemicals manifactured in a lab that absorb the UV rays and convert it into heat. They usually contain one or more of the following ingredients: Oxybenzone, abvobenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, and/or octinoxate. Inorganic sunscreens, on the other hand, are mineral-based. 

Mineral (Inorganic) Sunscreens

Inorganic sunscreens are actually chemical free, natural sunscreens, which reflect and scatter the UV radiations.

They contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients.

Which to choose and why?

Mineral (inorganic) over chemical (organic). Mineral sunscreens are usually less irritating to the skin and are considered safer. Chemical sunscreens could potentially disrupt the estrogen hormone, and the chemical oxybenzone widely used in most chemical sunscreens can be disruptive to ocean wildlife.

Zinc Oxide

Zinc oxide is the best mineral-based sunscreen so far. It prevents UV lights better than titanium dioxide, and it's a critical mineral nutrient in many vitamin supplements. Zinc oxide is very safe for the skin, and the FDA has actually approved the use of zinc oxide in creams for babies with diaper rash, 

It has also been studied that zinc oxide has several other benefits to the skin. For example, tt is antiseptic, absorbs moisture, and especially useful for severe eczema. It also been approved to be used in facial skin redness as a soothing preparation.

Several important considerations on sunscreen and sun exposure:

For most people, it only takes 5 to 10 minutes to burn without sunscreen, however it depends on the UV index, skin type, severity of the sun, etc. However, it may take hours to see the manifestation of the burn, even though the damage to skin occured much earlier.

It's usually recommended that you reapply sunscreen every 120 minutes after initial proper application. Apply again after swimming, sweating, and towel wiping. Use water resistant sunscreen if swimming.

How long a person can stay in sun with sunscreen application

You can calculate the time by multiplying the SPF by 6. For example, in the case of SPF 30, the maximum time one can stay under the sun steadily with sunscreen without burning is 180 minutes. Reapplication of the sunscreen does not prolong this time. Meaning, after about 3 hours, people with fair skin should try to get out of the sun. 

Categories: Medical, Cosmetic

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