Saturday, October 16, 2021

Sunscreen 101

To Your Health

Though summer doesn’t technically begin until Friday, June 21, most of us in Southwest Florida realize that summer metaphorically arrives much earlier here.

I grew up in Collier County, so I’m used to our extended summer conditions; however, our May through October summerlike weather is often an adjustment for those who have relocated from up north.

Other than our typical 2-3 days of “winter” each year, there’s no “downtime” for sunscreen usage in Florida. However, according to Physicians Regional’s Dr. Jacqueline A. Thomas, the summer months bring a renewed focus on hydration and sun protection.

Those of us who call Southwest Florida our full-time home know all about water: pool water, the Gulf of Mexico, etc. We love it all. However, when people are active and exposed to excessive heat and sunlight, hydration is critical.

As many times as I have typed these words before, they bear repeating: drink plenty of water. And adults, please keep an eye on the kids as they probably won’t read this column and need you to remind them to keep their water intake high.

Due to the innate relationship between water consumption and healthy skin, let’s take a detailed look at sunscreen. With all the products on display at area retailers, it’s not surprising that many of us are confused about what to use. To get some answers, I went to Board Certified Dermatologist, Jacqueline A. Thomas, DO, FAOCD, FAAD, FACMS.

Dr. Thomas specializes in complete dermatologic care to include skin cancer diagnosis and surgical care, cosmetic procedures, anti-aging and cosmetic rejuvenation, and chemical peels. She is also Fellowship Trained in Mohs Micrographic Surgery.

However, as you would expect, she knows a tremendous amount about sun protection, too.

Here’s a question that so many of us ask: Considering we live in Florida; how often do we truly need to see a dermatologist? And Dr. Thomas’ answer: “Once a year is recommended in areas like Florida, Arizona and California.” Yes, it can be less in northern communities with less consistent or concentrated sunlight.

Next, how do we know if a specific brand of sunscreen is good? Dr. Thomas is quick to clarify: “First and foremost, sunscreen does not even make it on the shelf unless it is FDA approved. For a product to be approved, the minimum effective time must be two hours.”

There are two different types of sunscreen: chemical blockers and physical blockers.

Generally speaking, chemical blockers typically contain ingredients you can’t pronounce. With a chemical blocker, when the light hits your skin, the sunscreen causes the light to scatter and disperse.

Physical blockers contain titanium or zinc. With physical blockers, when the light hits your skin, it bounces off. People with certain skin conditions (such as eczema) and those with sensitive skin would probably do better with a physical blocker as some of the ingredients used in chemical blockers can aggravate their skin condition.

“Choosing one type of sunscreen over another depends on the elegance of the formulation of the product; however, it is typically more about patient preference and convenience of use,” explains Dr. Thomas. “Titanium- and zinc-based products can leave a white or grey sheen on the skin. Chemical blockers can as well, but they tend to be more elegantly formulated and blend in with the skin’s natural tones.”

When it comes to protecting your children, they require “special handling” mainly because they need to learn skin protection habits early. The use of sunscreen should become second nature to every child.

According to Dr. Thomas: “You would not have a child get into a car without a seatbelt, the same should apply to children and sunscreen. Skin damage starts early when not protected and babies, in particular, have more surface body area. In general, sunscreen containing physical blockers are better for children.”

Next, let’s look at “SPF”—an acronym that stands for Sun Protection Factor.

Though the FDA continues to debate its value, you will find, for example, “SPF 100” on the shelves. That said, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends SPF 30 or higher. “If you’re outside for an extended period, use SPF 50,” says Dr. Thomas.

Keep in mind that the SPF number only references UVB rays protection. There are three different kinds of rays: UVA, UVB and UVC.

As our healthy ozone layer has kept UVC rays from being a significant issue, UVA rays (lead to aging) and UVB rays (lead to burning) pose a threat. Physical blockers that contain titanium and zinc block UVA and UVB rays. If the product says it offers “broad-spectrum” coverage, you can expect UVA and UVB protection as well.

Then there’s sprays vs. lotions. Though personal preference plays a large role here, Dr. Thomas suggests, “A lot of people don’t use sprays properly. Don’t just spray it on—spray it on and wipe it in.”

If you’re wondering if “waterproof” sunscreens really exist,” Dr. Thomas says, “No, not in the way you think it exists. There are two water repellant options—40 minutes or 80 minutes. It should tell you on the bottle. Once you get in the water, and get back out and towel off, you just wiped off that layer of sunscreen and you must reapply—even if only 20 minutes have elapsed.”

Dr. Thomas continues: “Don’t trust any product claiming to offer waterproof protection beyond 80 minutes.”

Though product manufacturers will go to great lengths to provide bold, vibrant packaging with endless benefit statements, once you are armed with the information above, please read the bottle. As they say, the small print says it all.

To make an appointment with Dr. Jacqueline A. Thomas, call 239-348-4221 or visit

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