Friday, July 9, 2010

Sunscreen 101

Sun exposure and sunburns have been linked to the development of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. All skin types, from those that are fair and burn easily to those that never burn are at risk for developing skin cancer if not properly protected. The best way to protect sun-exposed skin is with sunscreen.

There are numerous sunscreens available, so how do you know what to look for? When choosing a sunscreen make sure it protects against UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are primarily responsible for sunburns. UVA rays can cause wrinkles, leathering, and photo aging. Many people assume they are protected from the sun’s harmful effects when indoors but UVA rays can penetrate windows.

Another important factor when selecting a sunscreen is the SPF or Sun Protection Factor. SPF is the ability of the sunscreen to prevent UVB damage. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends wearing at least an SPF of 30, which blocks about 97% of UVB rays. There is currently no measure for protection against UVA rays, but this is currently being evaluated by the FDA and may lead to changes in the future.

For maximum protection sunscreen should be applied one half hour prior to sun exposure and should be reapplied every 2 hours. Water proof and sweat proof formulations are available but should also be reapplied frequently. Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. It must be applied generously to exposed skin, then rubbed in completely.

Some medications such as diuretics, certain antibiotics, and chemotherapy drugs can make the skin more sensitive to the sun. Commonly used antibiotics including Levaquin, Cipro, Bactrim, and doxycycline and diuretics like furosemide and hydrochlorothiazide are known to increase photosensitivity. While taking medications such as those, people should protect their skin by covering up, wearing sunscreen, and limiting sun exposure.

Wearing sunscreen is an easy way to decrease the risk of skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, everyone regardless of skin type should wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 year-round. All of this information and more can be found on the American Academy of Dermatology website:

Lacey Mullins, Pharm. D.

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