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Sunscreen alert! Why your favorite sun protection may not be best for you

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — We’re told to wear sunscreen all year round but especially in the summer months. There’s a lot about the required lotion you likely don’t know. Meteorologist Kristen Currie spoke with experts at Westlake Dermatology about sunscreen and learned some interesting facts. You can read the transcript below.

KRISTEN CURRIE, KXAN: We’re talking some safety today with Dr. Lindsay Hunter Elul. She’s a board-certified dermatologist and a medical doctor with Westlake dermatology. Doctor, let’s jump right into it and start basics. What is a sunburn? What is happening to our skin?

DR. LINDSEY HUNTER ELLUL, WESTLAKE DERMATOLOGY: A sunburn, we think about that redness, swelling, tenderness, blistering, as the sunburn. What this is, is actually you’ve had too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun, and this causes DNA damage, ultimately leading to having premature set skin aging, like wrinkles and lines, sunspots and skin cancer.

Fair-skinned people have less pigment or melanin, so they burn a little bit quicker. All skin types exposed to too much sun can get some damage and even skin cancers.

Having one blistering sunburn and your childhood about doubles your risk for melanoma, which is the deadliest skin cancer, later on in life. No such thing as a good sunburn or suntan.

CURRIE: Let’s talk about then how we prevent that. There’s so many different sunscreens out there. All sorts of different SPF. Is there really a difference in SPF? And if so, what should we be looking for?

HUNTER ELLUL: There’s an overwhelming number of sunscreens out on the shelves. I mean, you go to any of the stores and see hundreds of options. So there’s a few things that we look at. You have to have a pretty good excuse to not have access to sunscreen, right?

What we look at is first that SPF number. So that stands for Sun Protection Factor and that tells you how well the product does protecting your skin from ultraviolet B radiation. So an SPF 30 is going to protect you about 30 times better than if you walked outside with zero sunscreen on.

The next thing that we look at is it broad spectrum. That means does it protect you from the two main types of ultraviolet radiation that we see here when we go outside. This means ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B.

Now, we look at the active ingredients, and we flip it over there’ll be a little box, and it says active ingredients and then all the preservatives below this. The main active ingredients to look for are divided up into two main categories. The first one is your mineral blockers. These are your like your zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These are really good at reflecting or scattering the light off of your skin. And then there’s the chemical blockers, so then they sound like chemicals. These absorb into the skin and actually break down sunlight on your skin.

Is it water resistant? This will also be on your label. You’re going to be outdoors swimming; you’re gonna be trying to stay cool.

And then we think about what type of product is it? Is it a cream? Is it a lotion? There’s so many options on this right, I get a lot of questions on this. We prefer something you’re gonna rub in and apply and spread evenly on your skin really important. Sprays are super convenient. We know this, but if you’re outside, and it’s windy, that’s not all getting on you. It’s going kind of everywhere. So it’s best, especially for children, you spray it on your hand and then apply it evenly on the skin and face.

CURRIE: You mentioned kids. Is there a certain sunscreen for kids? Or can we use the same one on everybody?

HUNTER ELLUL: There’s actually not a sunscreen approved for infants aged zero to six months, you just got to keep those babies in the shade. Their skin super delicate and sensitive.

For about six months up to two years or so, we recommend mineral-only products again, they have very sensitive skin, so the chemical products can be irritating can be absorbed. We don’t want that.

For older kids and adults, they have great safety data behind both the mineral blockers and the chemical blockers. I always recommend at a minimum make sure there’s a mineral blocker plus or minus having a chemical component to it.

CURRIE: Any other advice? You know, before we get into the thick of it when it comes to that summer sunshine?

HUNTER ELLUL: Yes, so making sure that you have access to shade or some kind of shade coverage. It’s hot out there, you know, so get an umbrella and make sure there’s an awning or that you have access to going indoors. You can’t stay outside 12 hours in this Texas sun … it’s going to get to you.

Know that besides sunscreen, there are other ways to protect yourself. Love a hat, especially with the rim, you need to protect those ears too — baseball caps are great for this. Ears get a lot of hit from the sun, right, we see a lot of skin cancer there. So it’s important to protect those ears.

There are great sunglasses now that have different filters in the glass. You need to protect your eyes, your eyes get sun damage, the skin around your eyes gets damaged as well.

Another thing, it’s really important to avoid the hottest times of the day when it’s the sunniest in Texas in the summer. That tends to be from 10 a.m. to about 2 p.m. Check the UV index, with you know all about this, the lower the index, the safer it is for you to be outdoors, the higher … you might want to rethink your plans for the day kind of work around that, you know, try to get out really early or a little bit later in the day so that you’re safe.

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