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Published May 17, 2014, 09:17 AM

Positively Beautiful: Overcoming resistance to sunscreen

Every day, I talk to patients about maintaining and improving their beautiful skin. I always talk about sunscreen as the No. 1 anti-aging product. Daily sunscreen use, even on cloudy days, really can minimize environmental wear and tear and reduces the signs of skin aging significantly.

By: Susan Mathison, INFORUM

Every day, I talk to patients about maintaining and improving their beautiful skin. I always talk about sunscreen as the No. 1 anti-aging product. Daily sunscreen use, even on cloudy days, really can minimize environmental wear and tear and reduces the signs of skin aging significantly.

Sadly, I also diagnose skin cancer every day and I see a new case of melanoma more often that I care to admit. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, so welcome to my soapbox.

Basal and squamous skin cancers are the most common, and up to 3 million new cases are seen every year. Melanoma skin cancer is less common but accounts for 80 percent of skin-cancer deaths. 76,000 people will get this as a new diagnosis this year. It is the most common cancer in U.S. women ages 25 to 29 and has increased by 50 percent among women ages 15 to 39 over the past 30 years. This comes as other cancer rates have decreased.

Why? Some question the ozone layer, others suggest global warming. A definite factor is UV radiation exposure, which comes from sun exposure but also tanning beds. There is enough evidence to put tanning beds on the list of known carcinogens. Our cultural norm is to celebrate a golden glow, but we know that that glow is just not healthy when obtained by exposure to UV rays.

Tanning beds can be avoided, but unless you live and work in a cave, you need to be outdoors sometimes. A hat, protective clothing and sunglasses with UV-blocking lenses are a big help. And sunscreen, while annoying, is a must.

But don’t we need sun exposure for vitamin D? We don’t get enough vitamin D through food sources. Short-term exposure of bare skin to UVB rays stimulates production of vitamin D. There is an Apple app called D-Minder that can help you figure out the length of time needed to produce adequate vitamin D based on your latitude, longitude and season.

The safest way to get enough is to take a supplement. Get your level checked the next time you see your doctor so that you’ll know if you are within the normal range or need to play catch-up. Look for vitamin D3, the most bio-available form.

The recommended dose (RDA) is 400 IU, but most people take 1,000 to 2,000 IU, especially if they need to increase their levels.

It also gets a little confusing when groups question the safety of sunscreen ingredients as hormone disrupters or even cancer-causing. Studies suggest that sunscreen ingredients are very safe, but if you still want to avoid chemicals, there are great options based on zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Check out the Environmental Working Group at ewg.org for a list of sunscreens that are considered safe by their standards.

Overcoming resistance to using sunscreen on a daily basis means finding one that works for you and your personal preferences. You might splurge on something higher end for your face, and use a drugstore brand for your body. Try many options to see what works for you.

Here are some helpful facts:

1. Chemical sunscreens sink into your skin and absorb UV rays there. They include avobenzone, ecamsule (Mexoryl) and oxybenzone. They need to be applied 20 to 30 minutes before you go out and reapplied every two hours because they disintegrate and become ineffective within that timeframe. A pro is that they are invisible on the skin, but a con is that they can be irritating on some people’s skin.

2. Physical sunscreens include zinc and titanium. They block rays by sitting on top of the skin to bounce UV rays away, and are effective immediately. A pro is that they don’t break down in the sun, which means as long as you’re not excessively sweating or wiping/rubbing your sunscreen off, it will work as long as it’s on your skin.

It’s still best to reapply in case some areas have rubbed or sweated off. Zinc and titanium are also less irritating. A con is that they can make your skin have an ashy or whitish look, though newer formulations continue to minimize this.

3. Sunscreens come in several forms besides lotions or creams. Look for powders pre-loaded in a brush, powder compacts, wipes, sticks and sprays.

4. Multi-tasking can sometimes be good. I love my Revision Tinted Moisturizer with SPF 45. It’s all I wear on most days as it is like a light foundation. Jane Iredale and other mineral makeup powders have an SPF of 18 to 20. Jergens’ famous Natural Glow product now comes with SPF 20. And Obagi Sun Field Broad Spectrum SPF 50 leaves a matte primer-like finish that works great under makeup.

5. You need protection from longer UVA (aging) and shorter UVB (burning) rays. Both types of rays contribute to skin cancer. To be safe, you have to read the label. The only time a single ingredient is effective is in the case of zinc oxide, which effectively blocks all parts of the UV spectrum. Otherwise, look for a combination of these ingredients: avobenzone, titanium dioxide, ecamsule (Mexoryl), oxybenzone and zinc oxide.


Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at info@catalystmedicalcenter.com.

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