By Viraj Shroff-Mehta, MD
Have you purchased a bottle of sunscreen lately?
If you have, you've probably noticed some changes in the way your sunscreen is labeled.
In the past, many sunscreen labels were confusing because they contained terms like "instant protection, "sunblock," "waterproof," and "sweat proof."
That is no longer the case. As of December 2012, over-the-counter sunscreens are required to provide more precise and accurate information about what type of UV protection the product offers and what it can do.
Under the new FDA regulations, sunscreens sold without a prescription now must clearly state whether the product provides Broad Spectrum protection (meaning it protects against both Ultraviolet A and Ultraviolet B rays); whether it has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 or higher (SSDP recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher), and whether it is Water Resistant for up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. Sunscreens that are not broad spectrum or that are broad spectrum with SPF values between 2 and 14 will need to contain a warning that the product has been shown to "help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."
The shot glass approach
Once you've chosen the right brand of sunscreen for your needs, the next question is how much of it to use. If you're like a lot of people, you probably don't use enough sunscreen or apply it frequently enough. The average adult needs about one ounce of sunscreen (equivalent to one shot glassful) to adequately cover the exposed surface of his/her body. An easy way to remember this is to picture the amount of sunscreen you need in teaspoons, with one teaspoon of sunscreen providing coverage for the face, one for each arm (including the hands), two for each leg (including the feet), and two for the torso (front and back). Men who have lost their hair will need to add an additional teaspoon of sunscreen to their heads.
Be sure to apply sunscreen 20 - 30 minutes before going outdoors so that there is adequate time for skin absorption. Reapply sunscreen every two hours or as soon as you come out of the water or if you've been sweating heavily. Infants aged 6 months or younger, should stay shaded and avoid sun exposure at all times. Be sure to protect children older than 6 months of age with a sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and applying it 30 minutes before going outdoors.
Regular use of sunscreen will protect your skin against sunburn and sun damage, but it's not a substitute for prevention. That's why I advise my patients to use sunscreen in combination with these simple steps:
- Seek shade and avoid sun exposure during peak hours (10:00 am - 2:00 pm)
- Wear protective clothing, sunglasses, and hats
- Avoid tanning beds.
Learn more about SSDP's high-quality sunscreens and services for the treatment of sun damage by visiting the new SSDP website at www.southshorederm.com.
Visit the American Academy of Dermatology online to explore tips on choosing a sunscreen.
Viraj Shroff-Mehta, MD, is a Board certified dermatologist at South Shore Dermatology Physicians.
Do you have a question about the information in this e-newsletter or other topics in skin health? Phone SSDP at 508.535.DERM (3376) to schedule an appointment with one of our Board certified dermatologists, or email us from the Contact page on the SSDP website.