Just How Much of a Sunscreen Expert Are You?

sunscreen protection When you live in Texas there’s no shortage of sunny days. The sun leads to many of the skin conditions that our patients come to us at Creative Image Laser Solutions to deal with. The sun’s ultraviolet rays are the problem, penetrating the skin and damaging its cells, leading to skin aging and wrinkling, and various skin cancers.

We all know that the best thing would be to never go outdoors, unless we are dressed like a mummy. But when golf courses, lakes, tennis courts, and all of the other outdoor fun of this area beckons, we’re going to get out there.

So, we all apply sunscreen. But what do you really know about sunscreen and how it protects, or doesn’t protect, you? Here’s some info.

Sun protection factor (SPF) and UV radiation

If you’re over 50, you may remember the first true sunscreen, called Pre-Sun. Since that early version, sunscreens have come a long way. A sunscreen’s efficacy has been measured by its sun protection factor, now commonly known by its acronym, SPF. SPF is not really a measure of protection, it is a measure of how long it will take for ultraviolet B (UVB) rays to redden your skin compared to having no sunscreen on. For instance, SPF 15 means that it will take 15 times longer to get burned at the beach with sunscreen on than without. Why does it use the UVB rays? Those are the rays that cause sunburn because they penetrate only the epidermis, the surface layer of the skin.

You’ll see some sunscreens touting SPF 100, but that’s really just a bunch of bull. Here are the amounts of UVB protection. An SPF 15 sunscreen screens 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 protects against 97 percent; and SPF 50 protects against 98 percent. You can see that you will be simply paying a premium for that SPF 100 sunscreen, but not really receiving any more protection. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends only SPF 15 and higher for providing adequate protection.

More recently, scientists realized they were missing something — UVA rays. They’ve found that UVA rays penetrate far more deeply into the dermis layer of the skin, and while they don’t burn the epidermis, they also are causing damage and triggering the growth of skin cancers. So, you need a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB. To do this, look for a sunscreen with at least SPF 15, plus some combination of the following UVA-screening ingredients: avobenzone, ecamsule, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, and zinc oxide. When you see a label that says broad spectrum or multi spectrum or UVA/UVB these indicate that some UVA protection is provided. However, there isn’t a measure of how much protection these terms denote.

How do sunscreens work?

If you want to get down to fine details, sunscreens aren’t really a screen as you would think of it, simply blocking the sun’s rays. They really are more like a mirror. The ingredients in sunscreens form a thin, protective film on the surface of the skin and absorb the UV radiation before it penetrates the skin. The “sunscreens” are actually physically rejecting the sun, meaning that their insoluble particles reflect the UV rays back off the skin. The FDA has approved 17 active ingredients for use in sunscreens.

Unfortunately, no matter how much you know about UV rays and sunscreen, your skin will still suffer sun damage. That’s where we come in Creative Image Laser Solutions. Dr. Butka has extensive experience diagnosing and treating sun damage, whether it is skin cancer or less extreme damage. Be sure to have your skin checked at least once yearly because where we live the sun just keeps on keeping on. Call us for an appointment, 325-641-1927.


Posted in: blog, Skin Cancer

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