May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and it’s a topic that is quite personal. I briefly posted my own skin story on Instagram. The takeaway points were to scan your body for any abnormally shaped or discolored moles, have a yearly checkup with a dermatologist, and don’t skimp on SPF, even if you think you don’t have the typical risk factors for skin cancer!
I had four surgical excisions on regions that were never even exposed to the sun! Pay attention to your skin's appearance not just for pesky blackheads and breakouts. Skin is our barrier, first line of defense, and protector.
Know that abnormal moles can be safely removed when caught early.
My goal is not to instill fear about moles turning into cancer, but rather to bring accurate information in one place about sun protection and shine awareness on the importance of being diligent about your skin’s health.
With the sun shining brighter and people itching to get outside more than ever, I wanted to round up some SPF and sunscreen facts. The conversation on health and safety is centered around washing hands, not touching our faces, and keeping distance. These are undeniably important, and as we are bursting at the seams to get out for a walk, bike ride, or lounge in our own backyards, let’s not forget about other environmental factors that can be harmful if your skin isn’t protected.
So let’s break it down to simple, straightforward answers about common questions regarding sun damage risks and sun protection.
What is the difference between UVA vs UVB?
- UV stands for ultraviolet radiation. It is the energy emitted from the sun.
- The longer unprotected skin is exposed to UV rays, the higher the risk of developing damage.
- We can’t see UV rays, but our skin certainly feels it.
- UVA and UVB have varying extents of biological activity.
What is SPF and what do the numbers mean?
What is the difference between physical and chemical sunscreens?
- The difference lies in the product’s ingredients and activity.
- Chemical sunscreens penetrate the skin to dissipate UV rays, while physical sunscreens, also called mineral sunscreens, sit on the skin's surface and deflect UV rays.
- Products can contain a combination of ingredients to provide broad spectrum protection (UVA and UVB).
- Which one to go with is a matter of preference, but make sure the product is BROAD SPECTRUM.
- Most recently in January 2020, the FDA released a brief on studies that active ingredients from certain chemical sunscreens absorb through the skin and into the body. Further studies are needed to determine the long-term effects, and the FDA did not deem these sunscreens as unsafe.
When should I apply sunscreen?
Every single day! UVA and UVB rays are present throughout the day, although the intensities can vary based on the time of day, geographic location and even altitude. UVA can even penetrate glass, so protect yourself from rays when driving.
Apply 15 minutes before heading outside.
Don’t forget the tops of your ears, and even consider a lip balm with SPF to protect your lips.
Check out some of my favorite sunscreens and makeup products with SPF below.
Amaro-Ortiz A, Yan B, D'Orazio JA. Ultraviolet radiation, aging and the skin: prevention of damage by topical cAMP manipulation. Molecules. 2014;19(5):6202‐6219. Published 2014 May 15. doi:10.3390/molecules19056202
Dale Wilson B, Moon S, Armstrong F. Comprehensive review of ultraviolet radiation and the current status on sunscreens. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol. 2012;5(9):18‐23.
D'Orazio J, Jarrett S, Amaro-Ortiz A, Scott T. UV radiation and the skin. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(6):12222‐12248. Published 2013 Jun 7. doi:10.3390/ijms140612222
US EPA. 2020. Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation And Sun Exposure | US EPA. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/radtown/ultraviolet-uv-radiation-and-sun-exposure
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2020. Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emitting-products/tanning/ultraviolet-uv-radiation
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2020. Sunscreen: How To Help Protect Your Skin From The Sun. Available at: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/understanding-over-counter-medicines/sunscreen-how-help-protect-your-skin-sun
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 2020. Shedding More Light On Sunscreen Absorption.Available at: <https://www.fda.gov/news-events/fda-voices/shedding-more-light-sunscreen-absorption