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The Truth About Sunscreens & When and How to Use Them


Let’s go over all the myths surrounding sun block. The first myth the sun block can cause skin cancer. This idea was written in a several articles. The argument given was that sun block can gives a false sense of security. So the thought was, that people with sun sensitive skin should would go out in the sun, and /or stay in the sun longer. Which was believed to cause skin cancer. New studies have shown there has been no increase in skin cancer with the increased availability, and use of sun block. Also, another myth is that sunblock will cause vitamin D deficiency this also seems to be false. Vitamin D is produced in the first five to ten minutes of sun exposure and slowly decreases with longer exposure. So when you first go to the beach and before you apply sun block, or after two hours when your sun block decreases, your skin will receive the vitamin D you need. Plus, you can also get vitamin D in your diet which we mentioned in chapter 3. Okay, let’s get to the point you are all waiting for; what are my sunscreen options. There are two types of sun block, physical blockers and chemical blockers. Most of the controversy is surrounding chemical sunscreen, so we are going to talk about that secondly.

Physical sunscreen blockers include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Initially both of these were thick, pasty substances and were difficult to use. When I was younger I use to work as a life guard in Florida and I used zinc oxide on my nose every day. It really prevented sun burns, but it was always difficult to use. Now new nano-technology is used to make these products. So, they blend into your skin much easier. These physical blockers are not absorbed by the skin. They block both UV-B and UV-A sun rays and are considered in all studies to be safe.

Chemical sunscreen blockers include substances which have amazing UV light absorbing properties. Some are oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate, homosalate and octocrylene.

These are the most common chemical ingredients in sun block. But there has been concern for possible toxic effects in some of these. The chemical sunscreens can have negative effects on coral reefs if exposed to too many swimmers wearing these sun blocks. When diving or snorkeling in Hawaii, use physical blockers to prevent sea life damage. As you swim, snorkel or dive a lot of the applied sun block washes off and settles down on to the coral reefs. This damages the live polyps which form the coral.

The toxic effects to humans is a little more controversial. The major concern revolves around one main chemical ingredient in chemical sun blocks called oxybenzone. This is a synthetic estrogen and has been labeled an endocrine disrupter after completion some animal studies. In one study rats were feed high amounts of this estrogen and these rats had measurable hormone changes when compared to controls.

There is another low powered human study, which revealed a minor change in some hormone levels in the blood of people who used chemical sunscreen. However, the study stated the changes were so minor they could not completely attribute the changes to the use of the chemical sunscreen. A urine study showed in 97% of people tested oxybenzone had been cleared from their kidneys in their urine. No harmful effects were found.

I would like to see more studies with significant statistical power behind them, but to date there is no strong evidence against using chemical blockers. The benefit of blocking the sun’s harmful rays far outweighs the risk of not using sun block. Until studies show major, negative, harmful effects on the human body, chemical sun blockers are probably relatively safe. So the choice is yours to use physical or chemical sun blockers. It has been noted that chemical sunscreens also have a higher incidence of allergic reactions, and that most companies who make children’s sun blocks prefer to use physical blockers.

There are guidelines for using sun block irrespective of the type you decide to use. Always choose a broad spectrum sunscreen which filters both UV-A and UV- B sun rays. Also look for the seal of approval from the Skin cancer foundation on the product. Apply regularly every two hours about an ounce, which equals about two hands full, to all areas exposed to the sun, and apply every 4 hours to areas covered by clothing.

Try if possible, to not be in the sun during highest intensity, peak hours of sun rays which is usually from 10am to 2pm daily, depending on your location. It is easy to check for peak UV ray’s exposure in respect to location, time of year, and time of day.

Remember also UV rays penetrate your clothing or bathing suit unless you are wearing special UV protective clothing. Wear long sleeves if possible, don’t forget sunglasses, large hats and to sit in shaded areas. A big question is always what about the SPF level. I recommend 45 to 50 SPF for my patients.

You really don’t get much more protection from a sun block level higher than spf 50. The 60 and 70 spf products are probably not worth the extra cost. Many tested products are showing that the SPF protection is not always as high as the manufacture claims, so it is better to err on the higher side anyway.

It is safe to start using sun block on babies after they are 6 months of age. Studies suggest but younger babies should be in the shade and not exposed to heat in general. Babies under 6 months, have a difficult time managing extreme heat or cold. Do not exposed them to extreme midday heat or direct sun light.

No sunscreen is not completely waterproof, even if a product states that it is. So, it still needs to be reapplied every two hours. Avoid spray on sun blockers because of inhalation risk to children. There are also concerns for incomplete coverage if the spray on sunblock is not rubbed in and spread evenly by hand. Lastly, avoid combination bug repellent sunscreens because reapplying them every two hours can lead to large amounts of bug repellents chemicals on the skin. These repellents are usually recommended for a one-time application.

If you work out and/or exercise during peak sun hours, it is important to still wear sunscreen. Many of my clients and professional athletes are reluctant to use sunscreen because it gets into their eyes when they are sweating and stings. Currently there are new Ph-balanced sunscreens available that don’t cause burning in the eyes. This prevents at least one deterrent to wearing sun block. Also, if you have naturally oily skin or problems with acne and don’t like wearing sun block, you know can choose a gel or oil-free product. The very latest innovation a powder which has SPF protection added to it.

You cannot rely on sunscreen alone to protect you, as we have already mentioned. Studies have shown that sweating can remove the sunscreen that athletes apply. It is believed that sweating actually increases the chance of burning. One study showed that went athletes sweat, it takes 40% less ultraviolet rays to burn the skin, then when not sweating. So for added protection, a lot of outdoor athletes wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible, and a hat to shade their face. This is why you see fisherman on a hot day wearing long sleeves shirts, hats and even a scarf around the neck and face. All of these provide additional sun protection when worn over sun block.

Sun blockers have become normal products that we should use any time we are exposure to the sun. The days of reflective mirror cut outs under our chins are long gone. Deeply tanned skin use to connote good health. Today we understand that repeated sun exposure will eventually rob the skin of its youthful beauty.

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