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Sun Protection

By Adrienne Rencic, M.D., Dermatologist
The Chester County Hospital

Published: June 4, 2007

With the summer just around the corner, everyone is thinking of lounging on the beach or sitting by the pool, and getting a tan. Sun protection does not top people's list of fun things to think about during the summer, but it is very important. Overexposure to the sun can lead to skin cancers and premature aging of the skin.

Proper sun protection is easy, once it becomes a habit. The foundation of sun protection is daily facial sunscreen use. This should also be applied to the backs of the hands since these tend to be the two areas most prone to sun damage. For extended periods of outdoor exposure a water resistant sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 30 is best.

There are two types of sunscreens: chemical and physical. Chemical sunscreens include ingredients with long chemical names (Parsol 1789, avobenzone, mexoryl…). These are inactivated once they absorb sunlight. Physical sunscreens include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These ingredients cause the light to reflect off the skin. These now come in more cosmetically appealing micronized formulas, which don't leave a white residue.

Different sunscreen ingredients block different wavelengths of ultraviolet light - UVA and UVB. UVB is responsible for sunburns. The SPF system of sunscreen labeling only takes into account the amount of UVB waves that are blocked. Most sunscreens have broad spectrum coverage (UVA and UVB protection). The chemical ingredients listed above provide good UVA protection. The physical blockers protect against both UVA and UVB.

One ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen should be applied to cover an adult's body. If recommended amount was applied, one 4-ounce bottle of sunscreen would only last four applications. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, and more frequently with water exposure or excessive sweating. Sunscreens come in many forms, cream, gel, lotion, spray, stick, and towelettes.

Picking a form of sunscreen that is convenient and pleasant to use is easy. It is best to apply the sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure.

Clothing also provides sun protection. Darker fabrics and tightly woven fabrics provide more protection than a white t-shirt (SPF 7). There are laundry additives which can boost the SPF of any clothing to an SPF of 30. Sun protective clothing which has an SPF of 30 is available at many retail stores as well as from vendors on the internet.

A hat and sunglasses are an important part of sun protection. A hat with a three-inch brim all the way around protects the face, ears and neck better than a baseball cap or visor. Broad sunglasses protect both the delicate skin around the eyes, where sunscreen can cause irritation and burning of the eyes themselves. Ultraviolet exposure to the eyes increases the risk of cataracts. Finally umbrellas and sun tents for children provide excellent protection and a slightly cooler environment. Enjoy the summer and be safe in the sun!

For more information about sun protection, visit www.skincancer.org or www.aad.org.

This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.

Last Updated: 7/27/2009