What You Need to Know About Selecting and Using Sunscreen

Many of us are stuck inside right now, but soon enough we’ll be heading out at last to soak in some sunshine at our favorite park or swimming pool. Before you venture out, however, we’d like to quickly review the steps you should take to protect your body’s biggest organ — your skin. While sunscreen may be your first line of defense, choosing the right product and using it correctly makes all the difference.

At Specialists in Dermatology PLLC, our team of skin care experts offers a wide range of services that are designed to protect and heal your skin, and ensure that it looks its very best. While we offer the most advanced treatments for most dermatologic concerns, from acne to aging, the steps you take to safeguard your skin make our job a lot easier.

And there’s no time like the present to review sun protection since May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month.

Skin cancer — know the facts

Skin cancer is, far and away, the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States — 1 in 5 people develop this form of cancer by the time they reach the age of 70. To drive this point home a little further, 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day in the United States, leading to more skin cancer diagnoses than all other cancers combined.

There are several types of skin cancer, but the three most common are (in order):

What each of these cancers has in common (aside from affecting your skin) is that they’re either directly or indirectly linked to sun exposure, which makes sun protection a good idea.

Understanding SPF

SPF stands for sun protection factor and it’s important to fully understand what this number means in terms of protection. 

The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are short waves that affect the surface of your skin. To avoid exposing your skin to these harmful UV rays, you should apply a product that contains an SPF of 15 or higher. Anything less only protects against sunburn, but not damage. 

It’s interesting to note that the higher the SPF number, the more you’re protected, but not by as much as you’d think. For example, an SPF of 15 is able to filter out 93% of the sun’s UVB rays, while an SPF of 30 filters out 97%. If you opt for an SPF of 50 or even 100, your protection levels only rise to 98% and 99%, respectively. No sunscreen offers 100% protection. 

So, at a minimum, we recommend that you always use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 before you head out, and bumping the SPF to 30 or 50 closes the gap of protection even further.

Understanding broad spectrum

We also recommend that you find a sunscreen that offers broad spectrum protection. As we discussed above, the SPF of your sunscreen refers to UVB rays, but the sun also emits ultraviolet A (UVA) rays that can get deeper into your tissue. These rays can contribute to skin cancer and lead to premature aging, so you’d do well to ensure that you’re shielded against both UVB and UVA rays, which is what a broad spectrum product offers.

Keeping up the protection

Sunscreens have come a long way in their ability to stay on your skin, but jumping in and out of the water or sweating profusely can certainly strip away this protection. Even if your sunscreen is designed for the water, it’s water-resistant and not waterproof, which means you should reapply sunscreen often throughout the day — at least every two hours and more if you’ve been swimming and toweling off.

Covering up

This last tip is one that we’d like to emphasize — there’s no sunscreen that beats covering up. While we want you to enjoy the many benefits of the sun (with sunscreen on), if the sun is high, we suggest you cover up and seek shade whenever possible.

For example, if you’re outside between 10am and 4pm, you’d do well to throw on a hat and breezy clothing that offers protection against the sun’s UV rays. 

If you’d like some help choosing the right sunscreen products for your skin, please don’t hesitate to contact one of our three Tucson, Arizona, locations.

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