What Is In Your Sunscreen? The ingredients are important.

By Kevin C. Smith MD FACP FRCPC

There is more to sunscreens that meets the eye. Here are a few points you should keep in mind when selecting one:

1. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is not the only way to judge sunscreen. SPF gives an indication of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin from ultraviolet-B light (which causes sunburn and skin cancer. See www.SkinCancerGuide.ca ) but tells you nothing about a sunscreen's ability to protect you from ultraviolet-A light (which causes wrinkles, and also contributes to skin cancer). If you want protection against UV-A, be sure that your sunscreen includes avobenzone (Parsol-1789), Mexoryl®, titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.

2. Some sunscreens last longer than others. UV light causes some sun screening agents to break down and lose their sun screening ability. Mexoryl®, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide do not break down when exposed to UV light, and so keep on protecting you from UV throughout the day. See frequently asked questions about sunscreens.

3. Some sun screening agents stay on the skin better than others, and this is important if you will be sweating heavily or swimming. In general, titanium dioxide and zinc oxide stay on the skin longer that most other sun screening agents. To reduce the chance that titanium or zinc based sunscreens will look pale or white on the skin, choose products containing 'ultramicronized' titanium or zinc, which is so fine that it is transparent to visible light but still does a good job of absorbing and reflecting ultraviolet light.

4. Sunscreens are available as creams, gels, and sprays. Creams are best for use on smooth skin, and some creams are prepared using water-resistant formulas so that the product will stay on the skin longer if you are sweating or enjoying water sports. Gels and sprays are preferred by some people, and in particular can be easier to apply than creams on hairy areas and on the scalp.

When choosing sunscreens for yourself, your family and your workers it is important to consider the cosmetic acceptability of the sunscreen, because if someone does not LIKE the sunscreen they will not use it. Thus, a nice sunscreen with an SPF of 30 which you are happy to apply daily will give you more actual sun protection than a higher SPF product which is too greasy or too white for your taste so is not used on a regular basis.

If you get into the habit of applying a sunscreen (or a sunscreen-containing prescription product like Retisol-A 0.01% cream) every morning, you can really slow the clock down, and even reverse some of the sun damage you have accumulated over the years. Learn more about  Sunscreens/Sunblocks)


About the author:
Dr. Kevin Smith is a dermatologist in Niagara Falls, Ontario with a particular interest in protecting the skin and in correcting skin problems resulting from aging, rosacea and sun damage. He is an expert in the use of Botox®, fillers, lasers and intense pulsed light to maintain and enhance the appearance of the skin, and have lectured on those subjects across North America, and in Europe, Asia and Mexico. Read more at www.smithlaser.com


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