June 10, 2021
2 min. read

Ask a Pharmacist: Sun Protection 101


Sunscreen is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from the sun. Applying sunscreen is important due to the risk of sun damage and skin cancer. Exposure to the sun causes most of the blemishes we seek to avoid, and can lead to much more serious consequences, including skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US primarily caused by the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are less serious types and make up 95% of all skin cancers. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and causes 75% of all skin cancer deaths.


How do you protect yourself from the sun?

  • It is advisable to stay out of the sun when it is strongest between 10am and 4pm. The damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays penetrate clouds during regular and overcast days. Exposure to sunlight during the winter months puts you at the same risk as exposure during the summertime.
  • Another way to avoid sun exposure is to wear protective clothing including pants, shirts with long sleeves, sunglasses and hats.
  • Use sunscreen that is water-resistant, provides broad-spectrum coverage with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if you are swimming or sweating.

What is a broad-spectrum sunscreen?

A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA where A stands for aging causes damage below the skin surface and UVB where B stands for burning protection. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkling and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause skin cancer.

sun protection

What is sun protection factor (SPF)?

SPF is a measure of how well sunscreen protects against the UVB rays. SPF is calculated based on how long it takes to sunburn skin treated with the sunscreen compared to skin with no sunscreen. For example, if someone would normally burn in 5 minutes, an SPF of 10 would extend the time they would burn to 50 minutes. However, since the intensity of sun varies during the day, the sunscreen will not last for more than a couple of hours. The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends a minimum SPF of 30.

suncreen 101

What other things should you consider?

  • Speak with your dermatologist to understand which applications including creams, lotions, gels and sprays will work best for your skin type.
  • Apply sunscreen in a generous amount 15 minutes prior to going outdoors.
  • Avoid using sunscreen on babies younger than age 6 months old. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also recommends keeping children younger than 6 months of age out of the sun.
  • Sunscreen blocks vitamin D production so speak with your doctor to see if you are vitamin D deficient and require supplementation.

patient provider

Sources: Mayo Clinic Cleveland Clinic AAP AAD

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