Do young children or pregnant women need to be concerned about these ingredients?
Generally, it is not recommended to use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months old. The best way to protect them is to keep them out of the sun. But certainly, for young children, pregnant women, people with sensitive skin, or any person who may be nervous about these ingredients, I would recommend a physical sunscreen. Those are sunscreens that contain the two ingredients that the FDA recognizes as safe and effective: titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
What is the difference between a chemical sunscreen and a physical sunscreen?
A chemical sunscreen works like a sponge. It absorbs the sun’s rays, and that involves some of the ingredients that are being called into question now. Chemical sunscreens are easy to rub into the skin, and they generally do not leave a white residue. Physical sunscreens act like a shield. They sit on the surface of the skin, and they deflect the sun’s rays. They usually leave a white residue.
Are spray sunscreens safe?
Spray sunscreens are a great option because it is very easy to apply a spray, especially on young children. Just be sure you apply it when it’s not windy and that you apply enough. Also, you would not want to apply to the face because there is a question about inhaling some of the toxins from the spray. A cream, lotion, or a sunscreen stick is best for the face.
What should people do to protect their skin?
I always recommend that patients use a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays, is water-resistant, and is SPF 30 or higher. I encourage people to reapply every two hours, especially if you are sweating, swimming, or rubbing off sunscreen. I advise my patients to pick a sunscreen that they are going to use every day. So if you like the way a cream feels, use a cream. If you think you are more likely to use a gel or a stick or spray, use that.
But sunscreen is just one part of a big picture. You also want to seek shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So try to stay in the shade during that time of day. What you wear is important too. Dress to protect yourself from the sun: Wear a lightweight and long-sleeve shirt, pants, wide brim hat, and sunglasses.
Due to the pandemic, people are wearing masks outdoors. Why is it important to remember to apply sunscreen on their face even if it is covered?
First, a mask only covers part of your face leaving the rest of the facial skin exposed to UV rays. Second, depending on the tightness of the weave of the mask, UV light may still penetrate through the mask. Finally, the mask may move out of place. It is difficult to apply sunscreen while you have a mask on, so make sure you apply sunscreen to your whole face, including your nose and ears, indoors and then put on your mask. You should reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or more often if you are sweating or wet.
So in your opinion, are there some sunscreen ingredients that are safer than others?
I do not think so. We have been using these sunscreens for many, many years safely. The FDA is gathering more data, and I think that is helpful. Personally, I would use both the physical and chemical sunscreens. But if anyone is concerned, they can use the physical sunscreens instead.
Learn more about how you can protect your skin this summer and test your skin cancer IQ.