By Dr. Amanda Lloyd, Dermatologist
The sunny SoCal summer is finally here and choosing the best sunscreen is a definite must! The sun is producing enough energy every second to power the Earth’s current energy needs for 500,000 years, but along with that immense energy comes harmful ultraviolet rays that can damage our skin.
The ultraviolet (UV) rays that reach Earth are 95% ultraviolet A (UVA) and 5% ultraviolet B (UVB). Both of these UV rays cause changes in the DNA of our skin that can lead to skin cancer, which is why it is essential to have a sunscreen that is as effective as possible at shielding your skin from these rays. Additionally, UVA causes premature aging of the skin and UVB causes the “burn” of a sunburn, so you can thank the sun for your extra wrinkles and the peeling skin you’ve had in the past.
So how can you tell if your sunscreen is effective at protecting your skin? The first thing to look at is the sun protection factor (SPF) – this number protects you from UVB (the burning rays). The second is looking for the phrase “broad spectrum” which covers UVA (skin wrinkling rays). However, in 2011, the FDA passed “the Final Rule” which stated that sunscreens could no longer be labeled with an SPF over 50, containers must indicate “broad spectrum” if the sunscreen filters UVA, and sunscreen can no longer claim to be waterproof as there is no such thing. If the sunscreen is water resistant, the bottle will be labeled water resistant for 40 or 80 minutes letting you know when you need to get out of the water and reapply. Even if you are not going in the water, it is recommended that sunscreen is reapplied every 2 hours.
And what’s the deal with SPF, does it matter? Well, a sunscreen with a SPF of 50 filters out two times the amount of harmful UV rays that a SPF of 30 does, and four times more than a SPF of 15, so yes the SPF really does make a difference. And if you’re stumped as to whether you should buy that SPF 50 or the SPF 80, anything over SPF of 50 is negligible. It is also important to note that sunscreens do not “block” out 100% of the sun’s rays so there are no true sun blocks, all sun screens unfortunately allow some ultraviolet radiation to reach the skin. So now you know when you head to your local store to pick out your sunscreen for the summer make sure it is SPF 50, broad spectrum and water resistant up to 80 minutes.