Sunscreen – What You Need To Know

Posted on: May 1st, 2019

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 3 million new cases being diagnosed each year. Most skin cancers are non-melanoma, and treatable if detected early. Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, accounts for only 1% of all skin cancers, but it is responsible for more than 90% of skin cancer deaths.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness month and sunscreens have been in the news a lot lately and dermatologists understand that you may feel concerned. Here are the answers to some of the questions that you may have from board-certified dermatologist Dr. Dimitry Palceski, Reflections Dermatology.

Are there different types of sunscreen?

There are two types of sunscreen and each protects you differently. The first are chemical sunscreens that work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. These sunscreens tend to be easier to rub into your skin without leaving a white residue. The second type are physical sunscreens, also known as mineral sunscreens. These sunscreens sit on the surface of your skin and deflect the sun’s rays. They contain the active ingredients titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, or both. If you have sensitive skin, opt for this type of sunscreen.

Why is sunscreen regulated by the FDA?

In the United States, sunscreen is classified as an over-the-counter drug. This means it’s a drug that you can buy without a prescription. The FDA classifies anything “intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent disease” as a drug. Sunscreens, particularly broad-spectrum SPFs, fall into this classification as they have been proven to 1) prevent sunburn 2) reduce skin cancer and 3) decrease early signs of aging. 

Is sunscreen safe?

Despite ongoing safety research, the FDA continues to tell Americans that they should apply sunscreen due to its proven role in protecting your skin from the sun and preventing skin cancer. However, to be on the safe side, they do suggest avoiding products that contain the following ingredients: oxybenzone, octinoxate and homosalate.

What does SPF really mean and are sunscreens with a higher SPF better?

Theoretically, applying sunscreen with a sun-protection-factor (SPF) of 100 would allow beachgoers to bare their skin 100 times longer before suffering a sunburn. Sunbathers often assume that they get twice as much protection from SPF 100 sunscreen as from SPF 50. In reality, the extra protection is negligible. Properly applied SPF 50 sunscreen has been proven to block 98% of UVB rays while SPF 100 blocks 99%. When used correctly, sunscreen with SPF values in the range of 30 to 50 will offer adequate sunburn protection, even for those most sensitive to sunburn.