Sunscreen FAQs

By Dr. Jill Olinger, MD, SMGOR Dermatologist, Old Mill District

How to apply sunscreen?

Sunscreen is safe and can protect your skin against skin cancer and premature aging. However, it is not as effective unless it’s applied correctly. Follow these tips from dermatologists when applying sunscreen:

Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or higher, is water resistant, and provides broad-spectrum coverage, which means it protects you from UVA and UVB rays. Follow these helpful tips when selecting a sunscreen.

Apply sunscreen generously before going outdoors. It takes approximately 15 minutes for your skin to absorb the sunscreen and protect you. If you wait until you are in the sun to apply sunscreen, your skin is unprotected and can burn.

Apply sunscreen to all bare skin. Remember your neck, face, ears, tops of your feet and legs. For hard‐to‐reach areas like your back, ask someone to help you or use a spray sunscreen. If you have thinning hair, either apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a wide‐brimmed hat. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm with a SPF of at least 15.

To remain protected when outdoors, reapply sunscreen every two hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating. People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun, or used an expired product. Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. So whether you are on vacation or taking a brisk fall walk in your neighborhood, remember to use sunscreen. For more skin cancer prevention tips, see a board-certified dermatologist.

People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun, or used an expired product.

Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. So whether you are on vacation or taking a brisk fall walk in your neighborhood, remember to use sunscreen.

How to select a sunscreen?

Do you know that some sunscreens can prevent sunburn, reduce your risk of getting skin cancer, and help prevent early signs of skin aging?

See attached infographic tells you how to choose a sunscreen that does all three.

When selecting a sunscreen, make sure the label says:

Broad spectrum: The words “broad spectrum” means that the sunscreen can protect your skin from both types of harmful UV rays — the UVA rays and the UVB rays.

SPF 30 or higher: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that you select a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30 or higher.

Water resistant: Dermatologists also recommend that you look for the words “water resistant.” This tells you that the sunscreen will stay on wet or sweaty skin for a while before you need to reapply. Water resistance lasts either 40 or 80 minutes. Not all sunscreens offer water resistance.

How you apply your sunscreen also affects how well it protects you. You can find out how to get the most protection from your sunscreen by watching this video: https://youtu.be/L7dH-I2qLU8

How to decode sunscreen lingo?

Do you find the alphabet soup of terms on sunscreen confusing? If you answered yes, you’re in good company. A study published in JAMA Dermatology says that fewer than half of the patients at a dermatology clinic knew the meaning of terms like “broad spectrum” and “SPF.”

Some of these terms, such as “broad spectrum” and “SPF,” have very specific meanings because they come from standards created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for testing sunscreen. Others lack this official meaning, but you’ll frequently see them on sunscreen.

Being able to decipher these terms can help you choose a sunscreen that gives you the protection you expect.

What is broad spectrum sunscreen?

FDA meaning: The sunscreen can protect you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.

what-is-broad-spectrum-sunscreen.jpg

Why you want broad spectrum sunscreen?

It can protect your skin from the sun’s UVA (aging) rays and UVB (burning) rays, which helps prevent:

Skin cancer
Early skin aging (premature age spots, wrinkles, and sagging skin)
Sunburn

What is SPF?
FDA meaning: How well a sunscreen protects you from sunburn.

To simplify things, you may want to think of the sun protection factor (SPF) as the “sunburn protection factor.”

About SPF numbers:

Another confusing thing about SPF is the number that follows it. This number tells you how much UVB light (the burning rays) a sunscreen can filter out.

Here’s what the science tells us about how much UVB light different SPF’s can filter out:

SPF 15: 93% of the sun’s UVB rays
SPF 30: 97% of the sun’s UVB rays

The AAD recommends using an SPF 30 or higher.

It’s important to know that no sunscreen can filter out 100% of the sun’s UVB rays. That’s why it’s important to also wear protective clothing and seek shade.

What is waterproof sunscreen?
There’s actually no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. Sweat and water wash sunscreen from our skin, so the FDA no longer allows manufacturers to claim that a sunscreen is waterproof. Some sunscreens are water resistant.

What is water resistant sunscreen?
FDA meaning: How long (either 40 or 80 minutes) the sunscreen will stay on wet skin. The sunscreen must undergo testing before it earns the water-resistant designation.

Water resistant:
The sunscreen stays effective for 40 minutes in the water. At that time, you’ll need to reapply.

Very water resistant:
The sunscreen stays effective for 80 minutes in the water. Yes, after 80 minutes, you’ll need to reapply.

Even if your skin remains dry while using a water-resistant sunscreen, you’ll need to reapply the sunscreen every 2 hours.

Why re-apply sunscreen?

Once applied, sunscreen only lasts so long on our skin. The sun’s rays break down some sunscreens. Others clump and lose their effectiveness.

To continue protecting our skin from the sun when outdoors, we must reapply sunscreen:

• Every 2 hours
• After toweling off
• When sweating*
• After being in water*

*When using water resistant sunscreen, you’ll need to reapply every 40 to 80 minutes.

Jill M. Olinger, MD

Jill M. Olinger, MD completed her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia. Dr. Olinger attended medical school at East Tennessee State University and James H. Quillen College of Medicine. Dr. Olinger is board-certified in Dermatology.
Dr. Olinger enjoys delivering the highest quality of dermatologic care in a compassionate, caring, transparent and respectful manner. She believes each patient’s skin issues are unique and should be treated individually. Dr. Olinger feels confident treating a variety of skin conditions including acne, psoriasis, eczema and skin cancer. Her areas of special interest include skin cancer surgery and general dermatology.
When she’s not in the office, you can find Dr. Olinger mountain running and biking, alpine and cross country skiing and spending time with her family, friends and dog.

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