I am a 40-year-old mother with two children, one age seven and the other 10 years old. It has been very hot and sunny this summer with frequent visits to the pool and no school for the kids. Some mothers are claiming sunscreens are not effective and may even be harmful. That does not make common sense to me, but mothers are experts in most areas. Should I stop using sunscreen on my family?
There is no consensus on whether sunscreens prevent skin cancer. There have been no studies to test the statement. However, they definitely help prevent sunburn and skin aging caused by the sun. Can you imagine being in the group without UV protection to see how many skin cancers you can develop? In clinical practice, every dermatologist has seen a decrease in sun damage, pre-skin cancers, and skin cancers in patients who regularly use sunscreen protection.
Every dermatologist also recommends smart sun exposure; that is, avoiding the noon-day sun and wearing protective clothing. There are more high SPF products than ever before; but there is no proof that they are better, as SPF 30 absorbs about 95-96% of the UVB rays, and an SPF 50 absorbs 98-99% of the UVB rays. It should be clear that an SPF above 50 provides very little additional protection. If this is misleading to the consumer, so be it; but it does not mean that they are not getting the benefit of a sunscreen. Sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours with sun exposure, and patients should still avoid noon-day sun and use protective clothing when possible.
There is no perfect sunscreen. Pick your sunscreen wisely. Read the label of active sunscreen ingredients. Remember the following guidelines:
· The ingredients which block UVB rays are well documented by SPF values, however, UVA protection is more difficult to measure
· Many of the chemical UVA blockers are somewhat unstable
· Patients should look for sunscreens which contain the mineral or physical blockers zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, both which come in clear, micronized formulations.
Mothers have a lot of information, but when it comes to sun protection, trust your dermatologist.