Sunscreens Explained by the Doctors at South Tampa Immediate Care in Tampa, FL

sunscreens-explainedSummer is just around the corner, and you and your family will probably be spending more time outside. Perhaps you’re planning to cool off with a thrilling visit to a water park, a tranquil paddle in a kayak, or a fun frolic in the surf. Before you do, however, you’ll want to make sure you have adequately protected your skin from the damaging rays of the Florida summer sun, which is particularly unforgiving. The doctors at South Tampa Immediate Care in Tampa, FL, offer the following advice on how to avoid sun damage while enjoying the great outdoors.

Sunscreen works through the combination of several active chemical and physical ingredients that shield the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. While UVB exposure causes sunburn, UVA penetrates the skin more deeply, resulting in photoaging as evidenced by leathery, wrinkled, and sagging skin. Nevertheless, both UVA and UVB are extremely harmful in that they can lead to skin cancer and eye damage and compromise the immune system, among other things.

Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB, and with the plethora of choices available in the sunscreen aisle of your local drugstore, you’re probably wondering how to choose the product that is best for you. Anyone over the age of six months* should use sunscreen daily. Even if you spend most of your time indoors, you can still be exposed to UV rays through windows and other sources. Therefore, the type of sunscreen you should use each day depends on the level of sun exposure you are anticipating.

You may have noticed that many products you already use, such as moisturizers, cosmetics, and after-shave lotions, contain sunscreen. This level of protection is sufficient for daily use if your sun exposure is minimal, but if you spend any amount of time outdoors, you will need a stronger, water-resistant sunscreen. We recommend using a broad-spectrum or multi-spectrum product that provides protection against both UVA and UVB radiation. The key ingredients to look for are:

  • PABA derivatives, salicylates, or cinnamates (octylmethoxycinnamate and cinoxate) for UVB absorption

  • Benzophenones (oxybenzone or sulisobenzone) for short-wave UVA protection

  • Titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone, or ecamsule (Mexoryl™) for the remaining UVA spectrum

Most sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher are very effective at protecting the skin from UVB rays. SPF is determined as follows: If it takes 20 minutes for unprotected skin to redden in the sun, the use of an SPF 15 sunscreen will prevent the skin from reddening 15 times longer (in this example, about five hours). It is important to realize, however, that no sunscreen can be expected to remain effective for longer than two hours without reapplication. In order to ensure that you get the full benefit, you need to apply one ounce of sunscreen (imagine a shot glass full) 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, and then reapply that same amount every two hours and immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating.

After considering these factors, you’ll want to select a sunscreen that you like, because even if a brand is recommended consistently by the experts, if you don’t like it, you won’t use it. Further, keep in mind that no sunscreen is capable of blocking all UV rays, so you’ll need to take other sun protection measures as well. Try to limit your time in the sun, especially between 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. And if you must be out in the sun, clothing is the single most effective form of protection, so consider wearing a long-sleeved shirt, a hat, pants, and sunglasses.

For more tips on how to keep your family safe and healthy this summer, please browse our online series of health articles. If you have questions or are in need of a personal physician, consider contacting or visiting South Tampa Immediate Care. Our walk-in clinic is centrally located on South Howard Avenue in Tampa, FL, and we proudly serve patients throughout Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Brandon, and the Greater Tampa Bay area. At South Tampa Immediate Care, your well-being is our primary concern.

*Children under the age of six months must be shielded from the sun with shade or protective clothing because their skin is highly sensitive to the chemical ingredients found in most sunscreens.