Summer and Sunscreens!

Summer is rapidly approaching, the signs are all around us. The weather is warming up, kids are graduating from school for the summer, and Pittsburgh staples like Kennywood and Sandcastle are opening their doors for the season!

If you are anything like me you look forward to getting out of the house and spending time outside. Whether it is a walk around the block, a run in South Park, or a week at the beach on vacation. We are all finding ways to get out of the house and enjoy the weather before the snow rears its ugly head back in the ‘burgh.

Along with all this summer fun comes an essential tool for protecting ourselves from the stealthy killer known as skin cancer. We now know that sunscreen and sunblock are essential for protecting our skin from cancer, premature skin aging, and even protecting our immune systems.


There is a lot of changing research into which methods are best and a great deal of confusion among the general public as to what SPF, Sunscreen, and Sunblock are. We also get many questions in regards to waterproof or water resistant and what that means.

Popular Water Resistant Sunscreens

There are two types of sun rays that affect our skin, UVA (long wave) and UVB (short wave) rays. UVA light rays are the most prevalent and the least intense of the two, UVA light can also penetrate through clouds and glass. UVA light penetrates the skin deeply and is the main culprit in premature skin aging and wrinkling. It was originally believed that UVA (also known as the tanning rays) had little effect on skin cancer risk, but after nearly 2 decades of research scientists can now point to UVA rays as potential cancer initiators. Tanning beds primarily emit UVA light at a concentration of 12 times what you get from the same amount of exposure to the sun. Modern research now shows that tanning beds can drastically increase your risk of melanoma, this is especially true in the younger skin of teenagers.

UVB light is less prevalent in the environment, but is the primary cause of skin reddening and sunburn. UVB also plays a significant role in skin aging, wrinkling, and increased cancer risk. UVB light is most prevalent between 10am and 4pm, it is essential during this time of day to seek shade or protect your skin with clothing or sunblock/sunscreen. UVB light does not penetrate glass well, but is easily reflected onto your skin from surrounding light colored surfaces, snow, or water.

There are a great deal of myths surrounding sun exposure, if you would like a quick informative read, I would recommend this link (Click here)

The most important way you can protect yourself and your skin from UVA and UVB rays is to avoid long spells of direct unprotected sun exposure during the hours of 10am to 4pm. This can be accomplished by seeking shade, spending time indoors, and by protecting your skin with a physical barrier like a zinc sunscreen or clothing, or a chemical barrier like sunblock.

Many clothing items, especially sports related clothing now also provide a UPF rating which can tell you how well the article will block the sun. The higher the UPF rating for your clothing, the less UV light will pass through the garment to your skin. Loosely woven fabrics (ie, clothes you can see through) are going to block a lot less UV light than tightly woven fabrics that are harder to see through.

Sensitive skin, and Kids Sunscreens

So you are all set to head outside and take in the summer weather, you have your tightly knit fabrics, your wide brimmed hats, and of course your sunglasses (which prevent cataracts!). You then need to decide which sunscreen or sunblock is best for you and your skin type.

Sunscreen and sunblock “strength” is determined by SPF (sun protection factor). SPF is not actually an amount of protection, but an indication of how long it will take UVB rays to redden skin with the sunscreen/sunblock as opposed to without the protection. An SPF of 15 would protect the user’s skin from redness 15 times longer than no protection at all. A sunscreen with SPF of 15 will screen out 93% of the suns UVB rays, an SPF of 30 would screen out 97% of the suns UVB rays, and and SPF of 50 would screen out 98% of the suns UVB rays. All sunscreens block the majority of the redness causing UVB rays that reach your skin, the higher number just determines how much longer you can stay in the sun before you risk burning. Most cancer and physician organizations recommend a minimum of SPF 15.

When choosing a sunscreen you want to pick a product that will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays. Make sure the label reads “BROAD SPECTRUM,” UVA/UVB Protection, or “MULTI-SPECTRUM.” Those terms are usually indicative of a sunscreen that will protect from both UVA and UVB light rays.

There are numerous chemical compounds approved by the FDA for use as a sunscreen. They fall into two categories, chemical and physical. The majority of UV screening compounds are considered chemical. What that means is that they form a thin, protective film over the skin and absorb UV radiation before it penetrates the skin. Physical barriers reflect the UV radiation and are less desirable due to the physical appearance of the products. (Remember the lifeguards in the 80’s movies with the white zinc oxide covered noses and the wide brimmed hats? Not the most wonderful look, but they are an excellent form of protection from the suns rays).

Finally, what is the difference between a waterproof and a water resistant sunscreen? Some sunscreen manufacturers were forced to recall or change the labeling on their products due to misleading labeling regarding this last year.

The FDA determines that a sunscreen is water resistant if it will maintain its SPF factor after 40 minutes of water exposure. A product is considered waterproof if it can maintain its SPF factor after 80 minutes of water exposure. What does that mean for you? Well if a product does not list either waterproof or water resistant and you are swimming or exercising you need to reapply the product very often because the protection will just wash off. If you are using a waterproof or water resistant product you should reapply consistently after 40 to 80 minutes, or after towel drying yourself or after excessive perspiration. Just because its waterproof does not mean you can apply once and forget it.

Important facts we all need to remember:

-Stay in the shade when you are outside especially between 10am and 4pm.

-Avoid tanning beds.

-Cover up with UPF clothing, and DON’T forget the Sunglasses!

-Use a broad spectrum sunscreen, water resistant when possible (especially if you will be in contact with water, or sweating).

-Keep newborns (under 6 months of age) out of the sun entirely.

-Inspect your skin regularly for unusual marks, bumps, and freckles. (See this slideshow for details).

-Report any of these to your physician as soon as possible, don’t wait.

Many of us take for granted how dangerous over exposure to the suns rays can affect our lives. Skin cancer is a very real and very scary disease. It can kill you.

Food for thought from the Skin Cancer Foundation: Five or more sunburns (over the course of a lifetime, NOT a single summer) can DOUBLE your risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

Enjoy your Summer!! See you in the stores!


Blog disclaimer:

Reasonable effort and care have been taken to prepare this blog, and the information provided is believed to be accurate at the time of posting. However, this information is not intended to constitute and “authoritative statement” under food and drug administration rules and regulations. When in doubt please make sure to contact your pharmacist or physician when making dietary changes, or regarding medical treatment and other related issues. This blog is meant to be informative, Spartan Pharmacy asks that you please use this information as a reference and not a replacement for proper medical treatment. Please, leave that to the professionals!

All Photos unless otherwise noted are copyright protected and owned by Ronald P Obringer, any unauthorized use without permission of the owner is strictly forbidden.©Ronald P. Obringer


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