Here it is, nearing the end of another summer and I finally get the sunscreen issue addressed. My sincerest apologies for that. We are still working the kinks out of our new blog page, but hopefully you are finding it useful. I will say that some good has come of my delay. The FDA has recently announced some new regulations on sunscreen that we can address in the process. Here are a few of the questions we providers get on a routine basis.
Question: What is SPF?
Answer: SPF stands for “sun protection factor” and it is a measure of only UVB protection. Basically the SPF number is a measure of a person’s additional protection from developing erythema (redness) in the presence of UVB light. For example, if I put my arm into a UVB light box and after 2 minutes in the box I develop erythema on my arm, my minimal erythema dose is 2 minutes. So if I now use an SPF of 15 on my arm and do the same test it will take 30 minutes before I get red. The most common misconception is that this number is a time like 15 means 15 minutes of protection. How long SPF protects people is dependent on their skin type.
Skin type is rated on a scale from 1 to 6 and basically indicates how your skin responds to sun. For instance, I am a skin type 2 because I burn pretty easy but I can tan and don’t have to burn to do so. A skin type 1 always burns and never tans. A skin type 6 would be a very dark person that never burns.
Question: What SPF should I use and how often should I reapply?
Short Answer: My recommendation is that anyone planning on being outside for an extended period should reapply their sunscreen AT LEAST every 2 hours no matter what the SPF (or more often depending on skin type). The FDA is in agreement and now they state that no sunscreen can boast coverage for longer than 2 hours without substantial proof.
Long Answer: If you are a skin type 1 or 2 and you don’t plan on reapplying your sunscreen every 15 minutes (just an example) you may want to consider a sunscreen with a real high SPF. When I go to the beach I always use something with a 50+ SPF rating. If you are a little more olive skin and don’t burn so easy you could get away with a 30 perhaps. The other thing to think about is that we don’t have a number indicating protection from UVA light which is also very damaging to the skin. Right now the best we have is a general indication on the bottle that will say “broad spectrum” or UVA and UVB protection. Always make sure your sunscreen has this indicator. Actually the FDA has made the sunscreen companies go just a little further with their labeling. Now if a sunscreen is SPF 30, for example, and wants to be called “broad spectrum”, companies have to have proof that the UVA protection is also comparable in some way and not much less. It’s a tough concept to explain but it means the “broad spectrum” will actually mean something. Some of the newer sprays make it much easier to reapply frequently throughout the day, and they are just as good as the creams if used thoroughly and appropriately.
Question: What’s the difference between waterproof, water resistant, sweat resistant, ultra sweat resistant, etc.?
Answer: This has been confusing in the past but it should be getting clearer in the future. These terms refer to the time of sustained water contact or sweat contact a sunscreen can have before it loses its ability to protect you. You will start to see a number on sunscreens in addition to the terms. For example, 40 minutes (used to be waterproof) and 80 minutes (used to be water resistant) will appear on the labels as well. It’s another good one to pay attention too. I always try to purchase those rated for the 80 minutes personally.
Extra Tips: Golfers and gardeners here is the best way to do it: After your morning shower apply a good sunscreen cream all over like a body lotion and let it dry. Then keep a can of spray on hand and every 2 hours hit your whole body. It’s ok for the face if you’re not real sensitive but keep your eyes closed.
Finally, I usually don’t go into brands because there are a lot of real good companies making sunscreen and some of the generics are actually pretty good as well; however, Neutrogena has a new, very innovative product called “wet skin” (by the way, I have no stock in Neutrogena). It can be applied to a wet individual with the same effectiveness as a dry person. This is great if it’s time to reapply and you’re sweating a lot, or if you need to reapply on some wet kids running around the pool. My only caution is I have seen some rashes directly related to use of this product, albeit rare, so be careful to watch for this in the little ones.
Hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer and keep your skin safe.
Brett Kockentiet MD
Affiliated dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Center of Dublin Ohio