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Summertime Staples: All About Sunscreen

Hello, sweet summer! If you’re like the rest of us, you love getting outside to enjoy the warm weather and sunshine. In honor of the start of summer, we’re going back to basics to talk about sunscreen. Keep reading to learn the difference between physical and chemical formulas, how much sunscreen you should apply for proper protection, and how to choose the perfect sunscreen.


Chemical vs. physical sunscreen

Have you heard some sunscreens described as “chemical” and others as “physical?” The two categories of sunscreen both protect the skin from damaging UV rays, but they work differently.

Chemical formulas sink into the skin and protect from UV damage by absorbing the rays so they can’t damage and burn the skin. Some common chemical ingredients are avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone. The benefit of a chemical formula is that it’s more likely to be water-resistant and sweatproof than physical, so they’re great for swimming and outdoor sports. The primary disadvantage is that the ingredients may irritate sensitive skin.

Physical, also called mineral, formulas sit on top of the skin and create a barrier that reflects UV rays. The two FDA approved mineral ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. People with sensitive skin may prefer mineral sunscreen because it doesn’t absorb into the skin and cause irritation like chemical varieties. The challenge with mineral formulas is that they don’t always rub in as well, so they often leave a white cast on the skin. However, some new formulas have a tint or an advanced formulation that improves absorption.

For most people, one type of formula isn’t necessarily better than the other. The best is whichever feels good on your skin.

No matter which brand or formula of sunblock you choose, make sure that it provides broad-spectrum protection. A great sunscreen will protect from UVA rays (the kind that penetrates deep into the skin to cause aging and wrinkles) and UVB rays (the kind that hit the surface of the skin and causes sunburns that can lead to skin cancer).


SPF & UPF: Maximize your UV protection factor

SPF measures sun protection factor, and UPF measures ultraviolet protection factor, but what exactly does that mean?

You’ll see SPF on bottles of sunblock, and it describes how long it takes for UV-exposed skin to burn. For example, if your skin naturally burns in 10 minutes without sunscreen, an SPF 15 formula would protect your skin from burning for 15 times longer than without sunscreen. The catch is that you only achieve the full SPF when you apply sunscreen correctly.

Common places to see UPF ratings are on clothing and hats. The rating describes how effectively a piece of clothing blocks UV rays. For example, a shirt with a UPF 50 rating would block 98% of UV rays. UPF clothing is ideal for people who will be spending a great deal of time outside because the UV protection doesn’t wear off like sunscreen, and you never need to reapply it. Also, most people aren’t keen on putting sunscreen in their hair, so a UPF hat is a great way to protect the scalp.

Wearing sunscreen is a great first line of defense, but no single protection method is foolproof. Combining sunscreen with UPF clothing provides great defense against UV damage.


Sunscreen for the face

Applying sunscreen to your face daily is a great anti-aging strategy because it blocks the UVA rays that cause wrinkles. Many products are specifically formulated for the face because they’re lighter and less greasy than body formulas. You may need to test out a few different types to find one that doesn’t irritate your skin, cause acne breakouts, and layers well with your skincare and makeup products.

Mineral facial sunblocks may be more challenging for people with darker complexions to work with because they often leave a white cast. Even though some formulas have a tint, you may have to pay around to find a brand that works for you. If you’re struggling to find a facial sunscreen that you love, get in touch with our dermatologists for product recommendations tailored to your unique needs.


Sunscreen for kids

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends keeping infants under six months old out of the sun entirely rather than applying sunscreen because their skin is too sensitive for even the gentlest formulas. If you take an infant outside, dress him or her in UPF clothing and stick to the shade.

Young skin doesn’t produce protective melanin as well as adult skin, so choose a sunscreen with a high SPF and be diligent about reapplying often.

If your child is sensitive to chemical sunscreens, try a mineral formula. We recommend using lotions rather than sprays or sticks because manually applying and rubbing in the sunscreen provides better, more even coverage. Sprays and sticks often do not provide uniform coverage, which can lead to painful sunburns.


How do you apply sunscreen?

Applying sunscreen seems easy, but unfortunately, most people don’t apply enough to get the full SPF protection advertised on the bottle. If you’ve ever applied sunscreen and still gotten a burn, follow these tips:

  • You need two tablespoons, or about a full shot glass, of sunscreen to cover the average-sized body properly. Those who are taller or larger than average will need even more for adequate coverage.
  • Apply one teaspoon, or about a nickel-sized dollop, to the face.
  • Apply sunscreen 10 – 15 minutes before going out so it has time to absorb and get to work.
  • Choose water or sweat-proof formulas for swimming, sports, or sweaty yard work.
  • Don’t forget easy-to-miss spots like the ears, back of the neck, tops of the feet, backs of the hands, and along the hairline.
  • Reapply every 2 hours, or every hour if you’re swimming or sweating.


Which sunscreen is the best?

At the end of the day, the best sunscreen is the one that you’ll make a part of your daily routine. Even if you work in an office building, you should still apply sunblock because damaging UV rays filter through windows. Look for a facial moisturizer or makeup that includes SPF so you can skip a step when you’re short on time in the morning.

If you still have questions about how to use sunscreen or would like a personal recommendation from one of our experienced dermatologists, get in touch! We’re passionate about skin health, so we’d love to help you find your best sunscreen formula.


Brentwood Dermatology in Brentwood, TN provides comprehensive general dermatology and skin consultations for patients. To schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists, give us a call today at 615-455-0046.


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