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3 Things About Sunscreen You Need to Know This Season

Spring is upon us and it is time to get outside to enjoy it. While the warm sunshine helps produce vitamin D and improve one’s mood, too much can increase your chance of skin cancer. One in 5 Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. Remembering to put sunscreen on every day is an important habit to adopt.


Choosing which sunscreen to buy can be a daunting task with so many options. Should I get a cream or lotion? Is spray as good as a rub in? Are some sunscreens bad for my skin or the environment?


Here are 3 tips to help you choose the best sunscreen for you and your family. Ultimately, the best sunscreen for you is the one you will actually use on a regular basis.  


Organic vs Chemical Sunscreens


We all want to have healthy skin and lives. What do terms like “organic” or “all natural” mean for sunscreen? First, we need to remember that terms such as “organic” are not regulated by the FDA. So there is inherently some variation and differences to what this means.


Simplistically, an organic sunscreen is one that uses minerals to block ultraviolet radiation instead of a chemical compound. Zinc and titanium oxide are minerals that can be found in organic sunscreens.


The physical blockers found in organic sunscreens are highly effective at reducing exposure to harmful UV radiation that induces skin cancer and photo-aging (AKA wrinkles). Unfortunately, they don’t rub in as well as their chemical sunscreen peers leaving a white residue in some people. A tip to avoid this is purchasing a tinted sunscreen. This leaves a more natural appearance even if not perfectly rubbed into the skin.


Do I need sunscreen stronger than SPF30?


This is a complicated debate that even Congress gets involved in discussing. The cliff notes on this long discussion start with knowing that SPF 30 does block about 97% of harmful UV radiation. However, this assumes you do everything right. This includes perfectly applying a very thick coat to your skin and not missing a spot. The dose the FDA says we need to apply at is 2mg/cm2 which is about 1 oz on your body. It also assumes you aren’t sweating it off and you have waited the appropriate time to let it absorb into your skin.


I know that’s not me when I use sunscreen. For me, I use a much higher SPF such as 50 for everyday and 70 when I will be outside running or on the water. This allows for errors such as sweating and not being perfect with rubbing in every part of your back.


What does the literature tell us? A study was published last year in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology that found people who used SPF 100 had a better outcome at preventing sunburns than people who used SPF 50 during a day of skiing.


So, do I need SPF higher than 30? No. But, it sure doesn’t hurt to use it as it has a safety margin with its use.


Is sunscreen harmful to the environment?


Hawaii and Key West think this is true. So much so that they have banned certain the sale of certain sunscreens. Why is this? Some scientists have found that certain sunscreens in water can produce hydrogen peroxide which they think can be harmful to the coral reefs. Since these two communities are the only locations in American to have an active coral reef, they have been the first to take legislative action.


The compounds in question are oxybenzone and octinoxate. Both commonly found in sunscreens sold across the USA.


But is it true they harm creatures of the sea? The American Academy of Dermatology isn’t as such as the city council of Key West, Florida. Although there is some evidence out there for potential damage to coral, there isn’t an overwhelming body of it in the literature at this time. It is also important to weigh the potential damage to humans by decreasing access to sunscreen.


This is a hot topic right now and certainly more to develop as these items become law in 2021. For those worried about the effect sunscreen could have on the environment, there are many alternative options including organic and mineral sunscreens to select and apply daily.


Dr. James Tidwell is a fellowship trained Mohs Surgeon. Mohs surgery is the gold standard for treating skin cancer with the highest success rate and small possible defect needing repair. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment: 270-444-8477.

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Benton, KY 42025
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Martin, TN 38237
(270) 444-8477

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