Sunscreen Frequently Asked Questions for Skin Cancer Awareness Month

May 15, 2019

Sunscreen is applied by a woman on a beach.

As dermatologists, skin cancer is one of the most serious conditions we treat on a regular basis, and anyone can be at risk for this condition. Dr. Adam Luber is a skin cancer expert at U.S. Dermatology Partners’ Phoenix and Scottsdale area practices, Southwest Skin Specialists. Located in the “Valley of the Sun,” it is no surprise that Dr. Luber and other providers of the Southwest Skin Specialists team are all too aware of the importance of daily sunscreen usage. As part of our Skin Cancer Awareness Month blog series, Dr. Luber has taken the time to answers some of the questions we hear most often.

Does Spray-On Sunscreen Provide Proper coverage for the Pool?

Manufacturers are often developing new and innovative kinds of sunscreen, and that includes changing application methods. Dr. Luber says, “Spray-on sunscreen is a convenient tool. However, users often apply less than the recommended amount, and a large percentage of the active ingredients are lost in the aerosolized product. For that reason, we typically recommend rub-on sunscreen creams and lotions. If you are going to use a spray-on product, it is important to apply liberally and make sure you rub it into the skin.”

How far in Advance of Swimming Should Sunscreen be Applied?

Many people ask us this question. You don’t want to apply so far in advance that the sunscreen isn’t active and effective, but you also don’t want to jump into the water and wash off all your newly applied sunscreen. According to Dr. Luber, “Sunscreen should be applied approximately 15-20 minutes prior to submerging in the pool.”

How do I Know How Much to Use?

This is definitely a common question, and for the most part, people do not use nearly enough sunscreen to be effective. Dr. Luber said in response to the question, “More than you would think. The data on SPF recommendations indicates that an adult (5 ft 4 in weighing 150 pounds) should use approximately 30 grams of sunscreen (imagine a dollop the size of a golf ball or a shot glass full) to cover his or her body surface area. Adjust more or less according to your size. Studies have shown that people commonly apply 1/4 or 1/2 of the recommended amount of sunscreen. So, when in doubt, apply more.”

How Often do I Reapply?

Alright, so you put on your sunscreen before you left the house this morning. You’re done for the day, right? Wrong. According to Dr. Luber, “Reapplication is critical. We recommend every 2-3 hours, but more frequently for those who are in the swimming pool, exercising, or sweating. ‘Sport’ or ‘water-resistant’ sunscreens give some added protection for these activities and would be recommended.”

Can Sunscreen be Applied Directly to the Face?

Many people worry about applying products to the sensitive areas of the face. This is one question that often comes up from parents who are concerned about applying sunscreen to their infants and children, but as Dr. Luber explained, “The face is a critical body part for sunscreen application because it is always exposed to harmful ultraviolet rays. We recommend sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher for daily application to the face. You should use higher SPF on the face if you are planning to be outside for an extended period of time. I often advise people to find a well-tolerated facial moisturizer with SPF to avoid breakouts and other skin care concerns, especially for everyday use.”

Do Sunscreen “Sticks” Offer Superior Coverage for the Face?

We’ve all seen athletes or actors in commercials who have the stripes down their nose from using a sunscreen stick. Be aware, this is not the most effective application technique. Just like other areas of the body, you need to apply the sunscreen liberally and make sure you rub it in. Dr. Luber says, “Sunscreen sticks are handy and effective if used properly to cover the entirety of the face.”

How do I Apply Sunscreen on Infants and Toddlers?

This is an important question we hear from many new parents. It’s always best to avoid sun damage before it ever begins, so protecting your children is essential, especially since kids tend to spend more time outdoors than adults. Dr. Luber says, “We do not recommend sunscreen application until after infants reach 6 months of age. Until that time, use umbrellas, pram covers, etc. and keep babies covered from head to toe. Also use hats, sun protection clothing, and lots of shade. After 6 months, it is acceptable to use physical sunscreen blockers that contain titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, and you should apply regularly every two to three hours during sun exposure.”

Do You Have Tips for Teens or Acne-Prone People?

We know how frustrating it can be for teens and acne-prone adults to find the right product to protect their skin from sun damage without leading to more breakouts. Dr. Luber recommends checking the ingredients, “It’s often helpful to look for alcohol-based sunscreen gels, which tend to help dry out oily and acne-prone skin. Look for the phrase ‘non-comedogenic.’ Additionally, use light lotions and avoiding thick, pore-clogging creams.”

I’m a Person of Color, so I Don’t Need Sunscreen, Right?

Wrong. You still need to protect your skin. While many people of color manage to avoid the telltale sunburn, skin damage can still occur at the cellular level. Dr. Luber explains, “While darkly pigmented individuals have the same number of melanocytes as lightly pigmented individuals, the difference in skin color is due to the melanocytes’ level of activity and the size and distribution of melanosomes. Although darkly pigmented skin offers a “natural” SPF that is thought to be somewhere between SPF of 8 to 13, you still need to add sunscreen protection of at least SPF 30 or higher. We usually recommend the same sun protection measures for patients of all skin types.”

Are Antioxidants a Substitute for Sunscreen?

This one is a straightforward no. According to Dr. Luber, “Antioxidants are a great supplement to reduce the damaging effects that ultraviolet (UV) light can cause to skin cells. However, it’s not a substitute for sunscreen and it will not prevent UV damage.”

Should I Use Chemical or Physical Sunscreen?

Many people who ask about choosing the right sunscreen products have heard that there are chemical and physical sunscreens, but they are just not sure what the differences are or which type is right for them. Dr. Luber explains, “Physical sunscreens contain minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These minerals are physical blocking agents that block, diffuse, and scatter the damaging UV light away from the skin’s surface. In addition, zinc oxide has anti-inflammatory properties that are useful in skin conditions such as acne and rosacea. Titanium dioxide is the preferred physical sunscreen agent to use for children’s sunscreen products. Chemical sunscreens typically contain avobenzone or oxybenzone often in conjunction with other ingredients, which work by absorbing ultraviolet light and preventing it from penetrating through the skin. Chemical sunscreens are usually what you’ll find in ‘daily use’ protectants as they are lighter and less likely to cause skin irritation or flareups.”

U.S. Dermatology Partners Can Help You find the Right Sunscreen

If you live in the Phoenix area, Dr. Luber and the team at Southwest Skin Specialists of Phoenix on Tatum Boulevard will be happy to talk to you about skin cancer, sunscreen, and all of your skin care needs. If you don’t live in the area, U.S. Dermatology Partners has practices nationwide. To get started with a team near you, simply fill out our online form. One of our caring team members will be in touch soon.

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