There is a lot of controversy concerning how to protect you and your loved ones from the sun these days. As motocross racers we spend a lot of time in the sun for example all day racing at Loretta’s or Ponca city, sun exposure can add up quickly. Even more we have children who are more vulnerable to sun exposure than we are. And there are recent examples of motocross racers with skin cancer in the news such as Ricky Carmichael and Johnny Omara who recently had surgeries to remove skin cancers.
Before we start into a discussion of what sunscreens are best, it is better to understand what is really going on with a sunscreen lotion label.
A recent study in the Journal of American Medical Association Dermatology, showed that most people don’t really understand what is on the label.
The most misunderstood part of sunscreen is UVA, it is around every day penetrates through windows and glass, and like UVB it is also related to an increased risk of skin cancer, but unlike UVB, UVA rays are not filtered by the ozone layer at all. UVA does not cause sunburn per se but it does pose a risk for skin cancer with excessive penetration. When you read the label of a bottle, there is only one way to tell whether your sunscreen offers UVA coverage, the words “broad-spectrum” must be on the bottle. A broad spectrum sunscreen is crucial for knowing what you get both UVA and UVB coverage.
SPF Numbers and UVB
People often think that SPF equals everything. SPF stands for the Sun Protection Factor. It is a measure of a sunscreens ability to filter UVB rays, which are related to sunburn and skin cancer. But SPF only measures UVB rays, it does not tell you anything about the protection from other types of arrays such as UVA, and there are UVC rays out there just for your info. Finally, another little known fact is that you need UVB rays to make vitamin D. In fact, 95% of your vitamin D comes from skin exposure to UVB rays.
Most dermatologists suggest using only use a SPF of 30. And most moms naturally try to pick the highest SPF number. More is better right? But what does SPF actually mean? The real definition of that SPF of 30 means that you can be out in the sun 30 times longer before you get sunburned compared to being in the sun without any sunscreen. So to recap a SPF of 10 simply means that you can be out in the sun 10 times longer before you get sunburned then if you did not wear sunscreen.
Thus an SPF of 15 is NOT half as effective of an SPF of 30, and an SPF of 15 filters about 93% of UVB rays whereas an SPF of 30 filters about 97% of UVB rays. An SPF of 50 filters out about 98% of UVB rays. Thus a difference of 1% between SPF 30 and SPF 50. Voila the basis for the recommendations of dermatologists they recommend an SPF of 30.
How much sunscreen you really need? So what sunscreens do we need to use? So which sunscreens to use?
Apparently there are a lot of bad ones there and they all exist in the places where you shop. There’s a big problem with using terms like “natural,” “organic,” and “eco-friendly” to describe sunscreen because there’s no consensus on what those descriptors really mean.
A recent example of how confusing descriptors for sunscreens can be is the Honest Company lawsuit. Basically the lawsuit revolves around the ineffectiveness of the sunscreen to prevent burns. It is up to each company to test their own products for safety and effectiveness. Despite the labels showing the usual ingredients for a good sunscreen, this company’s sunscreen apparently does not work as well as advertised. The lesson here is always research and follow up on the company’s testing results and reviews.
A website called Healthy Child, released a list of sunscreens with the worst EWG ratings. The list reveals many of the toxic chemicals that exist in many name brand sunscreens found in common stores such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart and other stores.
EWG stands for Environmental Working Group, which is a nonprofit / nonpartisan research group that works to educate the public about toxins and the environment in products used on our bodies and the foods we eat. Basically it comes down to the list of ingredients. When you see things such as benzene, oxy, parabens, etc. these are the red flags that you should be looking for on a bottle.
Most effective sunscreens contain zinc oxide as their base. Remember, you can buy pure zinc oxide, but it does not look the greatest on the skin because it stays on the skin and turns your skin white. There are many brands with the zinc oxide base in their lotions. Some examples are solar sunscreens: Baby organics, The Honest company, Aubrey sunscreens, and others. These types of sunscreens may be more difficult to find so I might suggest buying them on Amazon or other online sites.
The bottom line is that we should buy a water resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen, reapply every two hours and use in the right amounts.
If you have concerns, you should go to your primary care physician and get screened yearly. These preventative measures can be worth its weight in gold if you think you are at risk for skin cancer.
At the end of the day, be diligent and do your research.
Good Luck, Doc Edwards