Sunscreens are an important part of daily life. There are many commercially available products that contain sunscreens. These include moisturizers, foundation makeup, lip balms and traditional sunscreens.

How do sunscreens work?

Sunscreens have two main ways of working.

Physical blockers reflect ultraviolet light effectively “blocking out” sunlight. These are also known as inorganic/non-chemical sunscreens. These are better tolerated in sensitive skin patients. Components of these physical blockers include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These have the potential to give a milky white appearance to the skin if applied too liberally.

Other sunscreens act as a chemical barrier. They absorb ultraviolet light including UVA benzoic acid (PABA), cinnamates, octyl salicylate (salicylates), and avobenzone (Parsol 1789). Chemical sunscreens have the advantage of not being seen once they are applied.

What are points to consider when choosing a sunscreen?

“Broad Spectrum” is a term that means a sunscreen that has the advantage of filtering out both UVA and UVB light.

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of UVB blocking activity. UVB is a narrow portion of the UV spectrum that acutely causes erythema or sunburn and skin cancers. The higher the SPF number the greater the degree of protection offered against UVB light. However, a higher SPF of sunscreen can result in a “greasy” formulation.

Water resistant sunscreens are best used for water sports, or when you are physically active, or likely to perspire while being outdoors.

It is personal preference as to the product type of sunscreens selected. You could use a cream, gel, alcohol solution or lotion. Gel-based suncreens are easier to apply on large areas of hair bearing skin, and are less likely to worsen acne. However, gels have the potential to irritate sensitive skin.

There are special formulations available for infants and people with sensitive skin.

Do sunscreens cause problems?

Sunscreens have the potential to irritate people with sensitive skin. Symptoms include itching, stinging and burning. Some people even develop a rash. Fragrance free sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as their active ingredients are less likely to cause problems in individuals with sensitive skin.

If there are still problems with your choice of sunscreen, you should seek medical advice. Occasionally people become allergic to one of the components of sunscreens. This may require allergy patch testing to identify a potential allergic reaction. This is important as many other sunscreens contain similar ingredients.

Are there any benefits to adding anti-oxidants to sunscreens?

Further research is required, but anti-oxidants may become a valuable addition to sunscreens.

Infant and Toddler Sunscreen Use:

Skin damage is cumulative. The skin has a “memory” for past sun exposure. Small amounts of exposure to UV light combine to cause harm to the skin. This can stem from either sunburn or suntan only. The damage once done can never be repaired. Since baby and toddler skin is more vulnerable than adult skin to damage from UV light and harm is cumulative, it is so important to make sun protection a routine from the earliest part of childhood onward.

Keep babies and children in the shade and appropriately dressed, and use sunscreen regularly. Therefore, sensible precautions include:

  • Wear a wide brimmed hat with or without “legionnaire” flap in back
  • Wear a shirt with collar and sleeve
  • Use a broad spectrum (blocks both UVB UVA) sunscreen SPF 30 or greater on all areas of sun exposed skin, and reapply regularly.

Sun protection for the entire family

Parents are the example for good, life-long habits.

  • Avoid the sun between 10 AM-4 PM, when UV rays are strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing including hat, shirt with collar and sleeves. This even in the shade, as UV light from the sun can penetrate through clouds.
  • Try and keep the baby out of direct sunlight if possible. You can use a drape to create shade over baby’s stroller or play area.
  • Wear sunglasses with at least 99% UV protection.
  • Obtain Vitamin D from dietary sources and vitamin supplements.

Kids with sensitive skin may react to the most carefully created sunscreen. If a child reacts to one sunscreen then try another. There are sunscreens marketed just for kids and toddlers. If your child still experiences problems with sunscreens, seek medical advice.

Organic sunscreens (chemical sunscreens) absorb UV light, and prevent it from getting to the skin. Inorganic sunscreens (physical sunscreens) work by reflecting UV light away from the skin. Inorganic sunscreens are less likely to cause problems with skin irritation.

Infants/ Toddlers and Sunscreens.

For Babies younger than 6 months

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, use sunscreen on small areas of the body, such as the face and the backs of the hands, if protective clothing and shade are not available.

For Babies older than 6 months

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, apply to all areas of the body, but be careful around the eyes. If your baby rubs sunscreen into his/her eyes, wipe the eyes and hands clean with a damp cloth.

How to apply sunscreen

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Use enough sunscreen to cover all exposed areas, especially the face, nose and ears, feet and hands and even the backs of the knees. Rub it in well.
  • Put sunscreen on 30 minutes before going outdoors. It needs time to absorb into the skin.
  • Use sunscreen any time you or your child might sunburn. Remember that you can get sunburn even on cloudy days. Also, UV rays can bounce back from water, sand, snow and concrete, so make sure you are protected.
  • Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours. Sunscreen wears off after swimming, sweating, or just from soaking into the skin.

If you would like to learn more about the benefits of sunscreen, contact the Total Skin Center today.