Sun Protection is More than Just Simple SPF  

We all think an hour or two in the sun won’t hurt us, a little vitamin D is good for you, right? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, at least 5 million cases of skin cancer happen each year. In fact, it’s the most common cancer in the U.S. with 1 in 5 Americans developing skin cancer in their lifetime.   

How to protect your skin  

Protecting your skin against the sun’s harmful UV rays plays an important role in reducing your risk of developing skin cancer. Preventative measures include using a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, avoiding prolonged sun exposure between peak hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., wearing a broad-brimmed hat, wearing protective clothing, and reapplying sunscreen.  

Wear sunscreen every day regardless of if it’s sunny or not; remember the sun’s out every single day and the UV rays do penetrate through the clouds, says TPMG board certified dermatologist Valerie Harvey, MD, MPH, FAAD. 

What type of sunscreen is the best? 

In terms of basic sunscreen, dermatologists do not recommend one over the other, but do say a higher SPF is better, as they are noticing more people are not reapplying as often as they should. Doctors recommended applying sunscreen 15 minutes prior to sun exposure and reapplying at least every 2 hours after initial application. 

There are two different types of sunscreens, physical and chemical. Both of these types of sunscreens come in your standard liquid or spray formats and offer various levels of protection and differing active ingredients.  

Physical sunscreen 

  • Works likes a shield and actually blocks and deflects the UV rays 
  • They typically have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as active ingredients
  • Dermatologist recommended for those with sensitive skin

Chemical sunscreen 

  • Works like a sponge and absorbs the sun’s rays 
  • Look for active ingredients such as oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate
  • This type is easier to rub in and doesn’t leave a white residue 

Often times people may ask which is better, spray or lotion? Lotions offer more protection because you can tell how much you are putting on. On average, people who use a spray bottle are getting less sunscreen on their body than the recommended amount. “For lotion sunscreens dermatologists recommend about 1 ounce or enough to fill a shot glass to cover their entire body,” says Dr. Harvey.  

The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Consumer Reports have raised concerns about using spray sunscreen, particularly for children. This is due to health risks in children from accidentally inhaling the propellant fumes during the application of spray sunscreen. “The dosage of lotion sunscreen for children is 30mg/or one ounce. Apply 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, with reapplication every 2 hours thereafter,” says Dr. Harvey.

Skin Cancer Prevention 

Prevent early signs of skin cancer by practicing sun-safe habits. This includes performing regular skin self-exams to detect skin cancer early, when it is most treatable. If you notice any suspicious spots or anything changing, itching, or bleeding, notify a board certified dermatologist to have it examined. 


Valerie Harvey, MD, MPH


About Dr. Valerie Harvey  

TPMG board certified dermatologist, Valerie M. Harvey, MD, MPH, FAAD, has over a decade of clinical experience, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of pigmentary disorders such as hyperpigmentation and melasma. She is an expert in treating both common and uncommon skin conditions including acne, eczema, psoriasis, various forms of hair loss, and skin cancer.  For more information or to make an appointment, call (757) 232-8856.

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