Sunscreen Vital For Skin Health

Taking steps to protect your skin from the sun is important

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The benefits of wearing sunscreen have been known for three decades. 

The sun is a major cause of skin cancer and signs of aging, which sunscreen can help prevent. But many people do not bother applying it regularly. They may slather it on for a day at the beach or amusement park to avoid a painful sunburn, but not more often than that.

Ramsey Farah, dermatologist with Farah Dermatology in Syracuse, Watertown, Camillus and Fulton, spends much time talking with patients about making sunscreen part of their daily skincare routine. For maximum effectiveness, sunscreen must be applied correctly.  

“If there is an area of skin that’s being covered with sunscreen, you need to apply it until there is some shininess, which will be absorbed in as it dries,” Farah said. “That’s a good rule that you’re applying enough. You want that initial sheen and that will be enough to know you’ve applied enough.”

Cosmetic products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide provide a physical barrier, which Farah said is effective and a good choice for people concerned about absorbing chemicals through the skin.

“To some extent, it may last longer,” he said of physical sunscreens. “There will be some absorption and some smearing off with day-to-day activities.”

He reminds patients to apply sunscreen on the commonly missed areas: ears, neck, top of the hands and feet. Coat the lips with SPF lip balm.

“We certainly see skin cancers in those locations,” Farah said. “The single most important determinant as to whether you’ll get skin cancer is the amount of ultraviolet sun exposure you get over a lifetime. It is safe to say that the more sun you get, the more types of common skin cancers you get. Sunscreens are the best thing we have to minimize exposure.”

Many cosmetics and moisturizers contain SPF, which makes it easier to protect the skin for those who wear makeup. Daily application is recommended by Ryan McCarthy, nurse practitioner, owner of The Skin Suite, a medical spa in Syracuse and New Hartford.

“Throughout the day, people are exposed to UV rays in their car, walking their dog, taking their kids to the park,” he said. “Consistent use helps prevent skin cancer and premature skin aging.

“There are a lot of nice sunscreens that are mineral-based so they don’t smell like chemicals. They’re tinted and serve multiple purposes: makeup primer, moisture and SPF. We have guys coming in. We have a private label that I use every day. It has a matte finish so it doesn’t look like you’re wearing anything.”

Women who wear makeup may not want to reapply sunscreen midday. However, applying SPF powder can offer some protection. In addition, physical barriers like SPF rated clothing, wide-brimmed hats and limiting sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the rays are more intense can help prevent sun damage.

“Make sure you use a water-resistant SPF while swimming,” McCarthy said. “Reapply every two hours and after towel drying.”

Rash guard style swimsuits also offer coverage and most are rated with SPF.


Sunscreen is For Everybody

People of color often overlook sunscreen, according to a recent Consumer Reports survey of 2,007 people. The survey responses revealed that 61% of blacks and 23% of Hispanics said they never wear sunscreen. While it is true that skin containing more melanin is less prone to sun damage than lighter skin, it’s not a free pass to skip sunscreen. Darker skin can still suffer the effects of sun-induced damage, including sunburn, lines, wrinkles, spots and skin cancer. 

“People of color can get skin cancers and can get very bad skin cancers, including melanoma on the bottoms of their feet,” Dermatologist Emily Lambert at Geneva General Hospital, said. 

Considering how few ads for sunscreen include people of color, some may not bother with sunscreen because they do not think the products are meant for them.

Advertisers may feel that showing people with darker skin tones may cause people to mistake their natural skin tone for a suntan—the exact opposite effect of what their products are meant to do.

Nonetheless, the unspoken, incorrect message is that only people with light skin tone need sunscreen.

Another factor is the small selection of cosmetics that match darker skin tones. When it’s hard enough to find the right shade of tinted moisturizer or foundation, why worry about whether or not it contains SPF? Lighter skin tones have a much broader selection of products that are more widely available.