The Power of Sunscreen

by Kevin Berman, M.D. Health Professional

Sunscreens contain either chemical blockers or physical blockers to protect your skin from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. It is wise to use sunscreen on a daily basis as we are exposed to cancer causing sunlight every day. Fortunately, many facial moisturizers and cosmetics for women contain sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or greater. This makes it convenient to apply sunscreen daily without worries of the greasy and smelly qualities of the sunscreens of the past.

On a daily basis, one should apply sunscreen to the face, neck, ears, and the back of the hands as these areas are commonly exposed to the sun despite the clothing that we wear. If you wear short-sleeved shirts daily, then applying the sunscreen to the exposed areas of your arms is also wise.

The sunscreen you choose should protect you from a broad range of sunlight, and should contain at least one of the following three ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, or parsol 1789 (avobenzone). SPF of 15 or greater is appropriate for daily use. Of course, if you expect to be out in the sun for an extended period of time, then a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater should be applied every 2 hours to all sun exposed areas. I know this may sound cumbersome, but just a few extra minutes of applying sunscreen will protect you from future cancers!

Many parents are appropriately concerned about protecting their kids from the sun. Newborn babies through the age of 6 months should be protected from direct sunlight by their clothes and shades on car seats and strollers. There is concern about using sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months of age but several years ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics put out a statement that allowing an infant to get direct sun exposure without sunscreen is very harmful so babies should be protected with sunscreens. The concerns regarding sunscreens stem from the fact that newborn skin is more sensitive than adult skin and that the sunscreens may irritate newborn skin or lead to allergies. Sunscreens have not been shown to irritate newborn skin but you should consult with your pediatrician before using sunscreen on your newborn baby. Just like for adults, baby sunscreens should contain zinc or titanium or parsol 1789.

Remember, the same zinc oxide used to protect from diaper rash will also protect skin from sun damage! There are many sunscreens marketed for babies and kids over the age of 6 months and they should be used on children who are going to be outside in the sun.

As kids get older, it is important that they are in the habit of using sunscreen because as they approach the teenage years, they are much more independent. Stressing the importance of sun protection as part of their lifestyle will help facilitate their daily use of sunscreen as part of a healthy lifestyle. Many teens are tempted to get tan as they feel this enhances their appearance or they may feel that the sun clears their acne. Educating them about skin cancer and the consequences of excessive sun exposure may allow them to make the right decisions about using sunscreen.

Also, while the sun may help dry acne in the short term, its effects are detrimental in terms of cancer but also will lead to benign brown "sunspots" on the face and will not prevent acne. In fact, sun protection is part of a good regiment for acne and the daily facial moisturizers with sunscreen are not greasy and can be applied under make-up. Teenagers are challenging in many respects, so providing them with accurate information will hopefully allow them to make the responsible decisions. I hope this information helps everyone to get into the habit of applying sunscreen daily.

Kevin Berman, M.D.
Meet Our Writer
Kevin Berman, M.D.

Kevin Berman is a dermatologist in Roswell, Georgia and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including North Fulton Regional Hospital and Northside Hospital. He wrote for HealthCentral as a health professional for Skin Cancer.