Differences in Sunscreens

With so many different types of sunscreens on the market it is difficult to know which sunscreens are the best.

Sunscreens now come in a dizzying array of sprays, lotions, foams and powders and in a wide range of SPF's from 15-100. It can be confusing for even the best educated consumer to pick the most effective sunscreen. Most of us know a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is a good place to start. However, the SPF doesn't tell the whole story. What we need to focus on are the product's ingredients because the ingredients are directly connected to the level of protection. There are two basic types of sunscreens, chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens. Chemical sunscreens protect our skin by absorbing UV rays. Some ingredients commonly used in chemical sunscreens are avobenzone, oxybenzone, and octisalate. While these types of sunscreens protect against UVB rays and short UVA rays, they don't protect against long UVA rays. Long UVA rays can cause wrinkles, brown spots and skin cancers. Physical sunscreens protect our skin by creating a barrier on the surface of the skin which reflects the UV rays. Some ingredients commonly used in physical sunscreens are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These types of sunscreens block UVB, short UVA and long UVA rays. Because physical sunscreens block all of the sun's harmful rays, they provide the best protection. Therefore, the most effective sunscreens available contain an SPF 30 or higher and zinc oxide. Using a physical sunblock with Zinc oxide is not only important to protect against skin cancers it is also important for patients with conditions that are affected by UV rays. There are several different skin conditions that can be aggravated by sun exposure. One such condition is called polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). PMLE is a common, sunlight-induced eruption affecting individuals of all races. Attacks are intermittent and follow minutes to hours (rarely days) of exposure of the skin to sunlight or artificial UV exposure such as tanning beds. Non-scarring, itchy, red bumps, blisters and/or plaques then develop minutes to hours later. The eruption is generally most severe in the spring or early summer, and it usually disappears completely during the winter. Another condition that can is actually caused by sun exposure is Drug-Induced Photosensitivity. Photosensitivity is characterized by an exaggerated sunburn. The following mediations are commonly associated with this condition, NSAIDS (used primarily to treat inflammation, mild to moderate pain, and fever), certain diuretics, certain antibiotics and anti-fungals. Treatment of this condition is sun protection. A common condition we see as spring break concludes and summer vacation begins is Phytophotodermatitis. This is a phototoxic reactions consisting of redness (with or without blistering) and delayed darkening of the skin. The combination of a certain sensitizer and UV light causes this reaction. The most common sensitizers that patients come into contact with are citrus fruits such as lemons and limes, contact with certain flowers, weeds, and vegetables such as parsnips, parsley and even celery. Avoidance of such sensitizers is the best way to avoid these conditions. In the summer be careful drinking beverages with lemons and limes, as there juices can come into contact with the skin.

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