Sunscreen Vital For Skin Health

Taking steps to protect your skin from the sun is important

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The benefits of wearing sunscreen have been known for three decades. The sun is a major cause of skin cancer and signs of aging, which sunscreen can help prevent. But many people do not bother applying it regularly. They may slather it on for a day at the beach or amusement park to avoid a painful sunburn, but not more often than that.

Emily Gottstein, physician assistant at Orchard Park Dermatology in Orchard Park, advises patients to wear sunscreen daily regardless of the weather.

“Even on cloudy days, you need sunscreen,” she said. “There’s long and short UV rays. The ones out on cloudy days cause damage. You can still get sun damage on cloudy days that can cause skin cancer. Sun damage adds up over time. It’s cumulative. Even if you’re not burned, every exposure adds up.”

She advises using a facial lotion containing SPF 30 before leaving home in the morning. During the lunch hour, avoid exposure by using a physical barrier, such as a large-brimmed hat while taking a walk or sitting under a patio umbrella at the café instead of in direct sunlight. Or apply a dusting of SPF powder if you wear makeup and do not want to take it off.

“Layering doesn’t add up to more protection, like SPF 30 makeup primer plus SPF 30 foundation equals 60 SPF,” Gottstein said.

Some people worry about applying chemical-based sunscreens to their skin. However, Gottstein said that physical sunscreens with zinc or titanium offer a good alternative.

“The sunscreen that a person uses is the best sunscreen, if they prefer one type than another,” Gottstein said. “It’s better than nothing at all.”

Gottstein said to apply one ounce — about the volume of a shot glass — to cover the body’s exposed skin. Water resistant sunscreen is recommended while swimming or excessively sweating. Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours and after toweling off.

Many cosmetics contain SPF, which makes it easier to protect the skin for those who wear makeup. One of those is the TIM line, developed by Deanna Cahill, owner of The Brow Diva. She has worked in the makeup business for more than 30 years in Rochester.

“The importance of SPF in your skincare, whether it be a day cream or a tinted moisturizer, is because of the exposure that you get just from walking from the car to a building or walking out in a parking lot or taking a short walk,” Cahill said. “It’s the accumulation of the daily exposure we get from the sun that does the most damage.

“That’s why it’s important to wear sunscreen every day to protect your skin from the harmful rays. Vitamin D is great, but it’s also important to protect us from the harmful rays.”

Sunscreen is For Everybody

People of color often overlook sunscreen, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey of 2,007 people. The survey responses revealed that 61% of blacks and 23% of Hispanics said they never wear sunscreen. While it is true that skin containing more melanin is less prone to sun damage than lighter skin, it’s not a free pass to skip sunscreen. Darker skin can still suffer the effects of sun-induced damage, including sunburn, lines, wrinkles, spots and skin cancer. 

“People of color can get skin cancers and can get very bad skin cancers, including melanoma on the bottoms of their feet,” Dermatologist Emily Lambert at Geneva General Hospital, said. 

Considering how few ads for sunscreen include people of color, some may not bother with sunscreen because they do not think the products are meant for them.

Advertisers may feel that showing people with darker skin tones may cause people to mistake their natural skin tone for a suntan—the exact opposite effect of what their products are meant to do.

Nonetheless, the unspoken, incorrect message is that only people with light skin tone need sunscreen.

Another factor is the small selection of cosmetics that match darker skin tones. When it’s hard enough to find the right shade of tinted moisturizer or foundation, why worry about whether or not it contains SPF? Lighter skin tones have a much broader selection of products that are more widely available.