Summer is in full effect here in New England, but keep in mind the increased shine brings more sun exposure to your patients. With skin cancer on the rise in the U.S., the CDC projects 106,110 new cases of skin melanomas and 7,180 deaths in 2021. Below, you'll find valuable insights you can share with patients to defend them from these statistics.
How much SPF is enough?
We’re taught to wear sunscreen to cover and protect our skin from burning, early signs of aging, and skin cancers. But how does one know when to wear sunscreen—and how much SPF is really effective? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen must-haves include a sunscreen protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, broad-spectrum protection, and it must be water-resistant. In an interview with the New York Times, Dr. Vinod Nambudiri, a dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, advised daily sunscreen application to any body part that is exposed to the sun—no matter the weather forecast. “Whether it’s sunny or cloudy, UV rays are present 365 days a year, and I encourage my patients to use sunscreen year-round. You can go higher than 30 SPF if you want, especially for people whose skin burns easily or who have sun-exposure allergies.”
But, it turns out there’s not a substantial protection increase after SPF 30. For example, 30 SPF will shield you from 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, while 50 SPF will guard you against 98 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. Still, no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. So, to maximize your protection, apply a thick layer of sunscreen covering your exposed skin, and don’t forget to reapply every 80-120 minutes, especially after swimming or sweating. While fairer skin may burn quicker, darker skin can still experience harmful effects from the sun’s rays including hyperpigmentation, burning, and aging. Dr. Nambudiri added, “It’s a misconception that darker-skinned people can’t get skin cancer.”
When is exposure the strongest?
Sun intensity varies by location, but typically the rays are strongest between the hours of 10 am and 2 pm. If it’s overcast, 80 percent of the sun’s UVB rays can push through the clouds. Therefore, the FDA encourages generous application; try for at least a shot glass worth of product. Also, focus on covering your nose, ears, neck, hands, feet, and lips when reapplying. In addition to sunscreen, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, or protective clothing can increase protection. Be especially careful of defending yourself from the sun if you have pale skin, blonde, red, or light brown hair, have been treated for skin cancer, or have a family member who has had skin cancer.
Is facial sunscreen essential to a skincare routine?
Yes, UVA sun damage causes 90 percent of visible skin aging. Facial sunscreen supports an even complexion while fighting off wrinkles and sun damage. You only need to use 1-2 teaspoons of sunscreen for your face but know that the same rules mentioned above about reapplication still apply. Sunscreen can be worn under makeup and reapplied over makeup. Even if you’re using a tinted moisturizer or foundation with SPF, these products won’t necessarily protect your skin as much as sunscreen will. So, if you're reapplying on-the-go with a spray or stick, be sure to rub it in properly after application.