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Sun Screen Facts

What is sunscreen? Sunscreen is a cream, lotion, gel, or spray that chemically absorbs UV rays from the sun. Sun block is different from a sunscreen because it physically deflects the UV rays as they approach the skin. Sunscreens/sun blocks traditionally have blocked UVB rays thought to be most harmful to the skin. Current knowledge exists that UVA rays are also harmful to the skin. Newer sunscreens now absorb UVA and UVB rays. These are referred to as "broad spectrum" or "complete blockers". These are desirable.

Who should wear sunscreen? Everyone! Regardless of your racial background, skin color, tanning ability, or age, it is recommended that everyone wear sunscreen.

Because transplant recipients are at increased risk of developing skin cancer, it is especially important that you wear a sunscreen.

Why wear sunscreen? It protects your skin from the damaging effects of the sun that lead to skin cancer. It will also prevent the severe photo aging that the sun causes.

When should sunscreen be applied? It should be applied every day if you are going to be in the sun for 15 minutes or more. It is best to apply the sunscreen/block 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, even during winter months in northern climates and on over-cast days in any climate.

What type of sunscreen/block should be used?

  • There are many sunscreens/blocks to choose from. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater. It is recommended that transplant recipients use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater. (The reason for this recommendation is the following: Most persons apply 20%-60% of the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the sun protection factor (SPF) rating of the applied product. When manufacturers give their product an SPF number, they are applying ~1-2 fluid ounces (30-60mls). This is much more than many individuals actually apply. When less is applied the SPF number comes down, and the individual is getting less protection than they may think. It is therefore important for transplant recipients, who are at higher risk for skin cancer, to wear a sunscreen with a higher SPF. This does not mean however, that the individual can then apply less sunscreen.)
  • Use a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. "Broad-spectrum" or "complete blocker" is sometimes listed on the sunscreen product, but it is important not to be misled by these labels and check that it truly blocks UVA and UVB rays.
  • Many women wear a daily moisturizer and makeup. It is recommended that the daily moisturizer and/or makeup used have an SPF of 15 or greater. This allows for everyday protection in a manner that is effortless, because it doesn't change the daily routine.
  • Many men hate to apply creams to their face and the rest of their skin surface. Gel and spray sunscreens/blocks are generally more acceptable to these individuals. Oil-free daily moisturizers with SPF 15, commonly thought of as "for women only", are very light weight and easily used as an after-shave type product with good acceptance.
  • Sunscreens that are oil-free are generally preferred by transplant recipients as they often encounter problems with acne. This is especially important for any sunscreen that is applied to the face.
  • Sunscreens that come in a stick or spray are often more acceptable for use around the eyes. A common complaint with sunscreen is the burning of the eyes that can occur as a result of sweating. Stick and spray forms of sunscreen have been developed for use around the eyes to avoid this problem. Application of the sunscreen 30 minutes prior to sun-exposure and sweating, also minimizes the running of sunscreen into the eyes, as it has then had time to truly dry.
  • Individuals with very sensitive skin may experience less irritation from sun blocks that contain the active ingredients of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide vs. sunscreens that contain chemical blockers.

What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. The SPF value is the sunscreen's/block's ability to block the UV rays from the sun. It may range from 2 to 60. The SPF is calculated by comparing the dose of UV required to produce sunburn on skin protected by sunscreen compared with the dose of UV needed to produce sunburn on unprotected skin. For example, skin protected by a sunscreen/block with an SPF of 10, requires 10 times the dose of UV to give a sunburn, compared with unprotected skin. The dose of UV is not simply time dependent, meaning that this does not equate with a sunscreen of SPF 10 allowing one to be exposed to UV 10 times longer prior to developing a sunburn than if the skin wasn't protected with that sunscreen.

A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 absorbs 93% of the sun burning rays and an SPF of 30 absorbs 97% of the sun burning rays, which isn't a large difference. This is the reason behind the saying that a sunscreen with an SPF greater than 15 gives no further significant protection. However, it is important to remember that 1-2 fluid ounces (30-60mls) are to be applied to attain the SPF number that the manufacturer labels the sunscreen. If less than that is applied, the SPF that the sunscreen is actually providing decreases, so high-risk patients may consider starting with a higher SPF.

How should sunscreen be applied?

  • Apply daily. Make this a part of your daily routine such as bathing.
  • Apply ~30 minutes prior to sun-exposure.
  • Apply 1-2 ounce (30-60mls)(~1/2 teaspoon to each arm and to the face and neck. Slightly than one teaspoon to each leg, the chest and the back).
  • Apply to all sun-exposed areas. Don't forget lips, ears, back of neck, or back of legs.
  • Apply sunscreen as you would if painting a wall in your home. One coat is not adequate for most walls, but merely provides the undercoat. Allow this first "coat" to dry by waiting 10 minutes. You then need to apply a second coat to get adequate covering and protection. If this application method is used, you may not need to reapply sunscreen as often during the day.
  • Reapply every 2 hours when out in the sun. When swimming, even waterproof sunscreens loose their effectiveness after 80 minutes in the water. No sunscreen is "rub proof", so after toweling dry from a swim, sunscreen must be reapplied.

Is sunscreen application enough to be protected from the sun?
No. Wearing protective clothing, a broad brimmed hat, and avoiding the mid-day sun are also recommended. General sun protection.

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Updated on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

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