We all know that sunscreen and protecting our skin is important. But oftentimes, the method of how to best use it and which kind works well for your skin type can be confusing.
There are also the common questions that go along with it, like whether or not wearing sunscreen affects your ability to absorb Vitamin D.
Why is sunscreen important?
Sunscreen is important because it protects our skin from ultraviolet light (UV). The skin is our largest organ; it helps to protect us from infections, toxins, and any harmful substances we encounter in our activities of daily living.
“Without proper use of sunscreen, we are likely to experience sun damage to our skin that can lead to painful sunburns, skin cancer, and premature aging.”
How does sunscreen prevent skin cancer?
Sunscreen prevents skin cancer by protecting us from harmful UV rays.
“Exposure to UV rays (and tanning) damages the skin. Over time, this damage to our skin and skin cells builds up. When our skin and cells are damaged, we are at increased risk for developing skin cancer.”
There are two main types of sunscreens:
- Mineral sunblock: Mineral sunblock is considered a “physical blocker,” it scatters UV rays to prevent them from touching the skin like a shield. Common ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- Chemical sunscreen: Chemical sunscreens protect us from UV rays by absorbing them like a sponge. Common ingredients include oxybenzone, homosalate, octocrylene, and avobenzone.
How does sunscreen prevent premature aging?
Sunscreen prevents aging skin by blocking UVA rays.
“UVA rays are the sun rays that can lead to wrinkles and age/sunspots. UVA rays can pass through windows, which is why sunscreen should be worn every day, even if we are not outside.”
What are some additional benefits of sunscreen?
If the fact that it can prevent cancer isn’t enough for you, there are additional benefits of sunscreen.
Moisture: Sunscreens often contain ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and other ingredients that hydrate and nourish the skin. Dry skin is more susceptible to sun damage and acne.
Dyspigmentation: sun exposure can cause dark spots, melasma, and uneven skin tone. Sunscreen can help prevent these conditions from occurring and prevent these conditions from worsening if they have already occurred.
Other light form blocking: Mineral sunblock protects against blue lights from our phones, tablets, computers, and televisions. Although blue light will not give us sunburn or skin cancer, blue light can contribute to premature aging seen as increased pigment and loss of skin proteins such as collagen, keratin, and elastin which causes wrinkles and loose skin.
What type of sunscreen do I need?
“I recommend broad spectrum sunscreen for my patients. Broad spectrum sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays.”
The official recommendation for SPF (sunburn protection factor) from the American Academy of Dermatology is SPF 30 as this will block 97% of UV rays. Unfortunately, there is no sunscreen that blocks 100% of the sun’s UV rays. Also recommended is a water-resistant sunscreen if you are going to be outside. Even if you are not swimming, a water-resistant sunscreen is helpful when perspiring.
For patients who have melasma, hyperpigmentation, dark spots, or sensitive skin, I recommend mineral sunblock.
You can take a look at our sunscreen options available to find the right one that works for you.
What are tips to apply sunscreen properly?
“Sunscreen should be applied to any exposed area of skin. It should be applied to dry skin 15 minutes prior to going outside. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours or sooner after swimming and sweating. Remember to apply sunscreen to your feet, neck, ears, and scalp.”
If using spray sunscreen, apply liberally until the skin glistens and lightly rub in after to ensure even coverage.
What parts of the body are most important to put sunscreen on?
Any part of the body that is receiving sun exposure is important to put sunscreen on.
“Skin cancers are most commonly found on the scalp, face, ears, lips, neck, chest, arms, and hands. These are areas that are often exposed to sun on a daily basis which is why sunscreen should be worn every day.”
Will sunscreen prevent me from getting enough vitamin D in the winter?
Sunscreen does decrease the amount of vitamin D that is synthesized from sun exposure. However, vitamin D synthesis from sun exposure increased our risk of skin cancer. Skin cancer is the number one type of cancer in The United States of America.
“We can get more than enough Vitamin D from our diet without increasing our risk of skin cancer. Foods naturally rich in Vitamin D include oily fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines), egg yolks, red meat, liver, mushrooms, etc. There are also many foods fortified with Vitamin D such as cereal, milk, orange juice, etc. Vitamin D can also be taken in pill form.”
Do you advise all patients to wear sunscreen every day?
YES! As discussed above, UVA rays can penetrate through windows. This means we are getting “sun exposure” while sitting in our cars and through the windows at work. That’s why it’s important to wear sunscreen in many unexpected places (including indoors).
And even though we live in Cleveland, OH where sunshine can be sparse, 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate through the clouds. Additionally, UV rays will reflect off of snow and increase the risk of sunburn. This is also true of water and sand.
While it may seem like you can take a break from sunscreen in the winter or months where we see more gray skies than blue, the simple truth is that sunscreen should be worn every single day. Let’s make it a goal, together, to wear sunscreen every day of 2024 as a part of the #ApexSkinSunscreenChallenge
Molly Sammon is a licensed Physician Assistant certified by the National Commission of Certification of Physician Assistants in the state of Ohio. She grew up in Seven Hills, Ohio and graduated summa cum laude with honors in 2018 from Cleveland State University. She received her Bachelor of Science in Health Sciences with minors in Biology and Healthcare Management.
Following her undergraduate education, Molly attended Baldwin Wallace University’s Physician Assistant Program from which she received her Master of Medical Science degree in 2021. She received additional clinical clerkship experience at Associates in Dermatology. Molly has recently completed a dermatology residency training program with some of the best dermatology providers in Northeast Ohio at Apex Dermatology and is currently working on her Diplomate Fellowship from the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants.
Molly sees patients of all ages for medical and aesthetic dermatology.