Dear Dr. Rick,
What is the best sunscreen? I am confused about all the numbers on the products.
We have an epidemic of skin cancer in the U.S. so this is a very important question. And yes, the numbers are very confusing.
While sunlight is good for us, too much of it causes sunburn, premature aging of skin, and skin cancer. The answer is sunscreen.
Ninety five percent of radiation from the sun is ultraviolet UVA radiation. The rest is UVB. Both are bad news for skin.
The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) measures a sunscreen’s ability to protect against UVB, but not UVA, which is the biggest problem. Sunscreens that are effective against UVB and UVA are labeled “broad spectrum,” although UVA protection is not rated yet. The only effective ingredients of a sunscreen that protect against UVA are avobenzone, zinc oxide or titanium oxide.
The terms “water resistant” and “very water resistant” mean that sun protection is maintained for 40 or 80 minutes respectively after water exposure. There is no such thing as a “water proof” or “sweat proof” sunscreen, so they have to be re-applied.
For light-skinned individuals, I recommend you use one ounce (two tablespoons) of SPF 30 or 50 sunscreen each time you apply.
Combining sunscreens of different SPFs is not recommended, as it dilutes the concentration of the highest sunscreen. Cosmetics with sunscreen are good ideas, as they add even more sunblock.
Sunscreens are not recommended for use in children younger than 6 months. These infants should be protected from direct and reflected sun exposure by clothing or other means. See table below for additional information.
Considerations for Prevention of Sunburns
Dr. Rick deShazo, professor of medicine and pediatrics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center and a practicing physician, is the host of “Southern Remedy.” The medical information presented by “Southern Remedy” is meant to provide general information about the topics discussed, and should not be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. The information conveyed does not create any type of patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Please consult your health-care provider before making any health-care decisions and for guidance about your specific medical condition.