Sunscreens- which one do I choose?
By Springfield Pediatrics
May 22, 2012
Tags: Sun Safety  


Ah! Sunshine is here- they very bounty of nature. Without it life as we know it wouldn’t exist on our beloved good green planet. We do need to be careful in how we enjoy this bounty, as lifetime risks for different forms of skin cancer can be influenced by inappropriate exposure to sunshine and repeated sunburn injury. So here comes the age old advice on sunburns and sunscreen.

If you are like many and a walk down the store aisle, leaves you wondering which sunscreen to grab for you or your children? and why is this brand so much more expensive than that brand? what do the SPF numbers really mean? We’ll share a few tips with you in this post that would help you make an informed choice.

Sunlight contains a wide spectrum of different kinds of light. We would limit ourselves to the ultraviolet (UV) light portion which is composed of three kinds described as UVA, UVB and UVC. All UV light forms are capable of different forms of skin injury.

UVA causes tanning like skin changes and little redness and burning. It also produces aging, photosensitivity and toxic skin reactions. UVA rays are present in sunlight throughout the day and the year and can pass through glass. UVB rays are the most harmful and more UVB is radiated during the summer months compared to other times of the year and is primarily responsible for sunburn, suntan, inflammation, redness, and pigmentation changes. It produces tanning more efficiently than does UVA, unlike UVA they are absorbed by glass. UVC, is especially capable of causing changes that could lead to the formation of skin cancers over time. This concern regarding UVC is often muted because it is filtered out by the ozone layer around the earth long before it gets to the earth surface and this why concerns about holes in this layer and ozone depletion are important.

Most chemical sunscreen brands block UVB but are less effective at blocking UVA rays. These products effectively screen changes that lead to sunburn from UVB, but may leave the door open for UVA to act on unhindered on the skin. Sunscreens with a broad spectrum of coverage to both UVA and UVB are preferred since they would prevent excessive exposure of the skin to UVA while protecting against UVB. Scientific data and testing in laboratory animals show that the dreaded form of skin cancer called melanoma is promoted by UVA acting on skin changes triggered by UVB rays. Broad-spectrum sunscreen products are recommended for this reason. Product packaging vary and they may be sold as gels, lotions, creams etc. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend sunscreen with SPF “sunburn protection factor” of at least 15. As explained above products labeled as “broad-spectrum” sunscreen should be preferably used as these protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen use may give people a false sense of security and encourage excessive exposure. Sunlight avoidance between 10.00am and 2.00pm, along with wearing of wide-brimmed hats, use of light protective clothing, and avoiding sunbathing offer more protection than any chemical sunscreen product by itself.

Light-skinned, freckled children, have to use broad-spectrum sunscreen with a high SPF rating as this helps to decrease their risk of developing additional skin injury and skin changes that may lead to skin cancers. Proper sunscreen product selection is important, but proper use and application is even more important. It is recommended that sunscreen be applied at least half-hour before planned exposure to sunlight to allow for adequate skin absorption. The exposed skin should be evenly covered with the sunscreen with repeat applications every 2-4 hours while still in the sun. Our earlier post on sun safety discussed the peculiar situation for infants aged under 6-months and use of sunscreens.