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  • Dr. Daniel Sugai

Are Sunscreens Bad For You? How to Choose the Right Sunscreen For You

Updated: May 28, 2020

Growing up in Hawaii, I did not routinely wear sunscreen. I loved the beach and I was an avid golfer in high school. How wrong was I to neglect sunscreen. I never bought sun shirts or rash guards until recently. In fact, the boys who wouldn't take their shirts off at the beach and wore a rash guard instead would get brutally teased by their peers when I was in elementary school.

Given that Hawaii is near the equator, the UV index is very high. I grew up routinely seeing tourists get "burned to a crisp" as they were not prepared for the stronger UV index. I grew up thinking that sunbathing was okay and that being tanned made you look tough, slimmer, or "healthier." This flawed way of thinking can be compared to how we thought smoking tobacco made us look cool or macho.

Now that I live in Seattle, you think that maybe that it's not needed to start wearing sunscreen but that is incorrect. Whether you live in the high altitudes of Peru (very high UV indices), Hawaii or in gloomy dark Seattle, sunscreen should be a part of your skin care routine.

Here is some background information on sunlight:

a. UV Rays: UV Radiation can be broken down into UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVC is filtered out by the ozone but UVA and UVB are affecting us most of the time, especially UVA. As UVA is a longer wavelength, it can penetrate window glass at home, in the office and in the car!

b. Broad spectrum: when purchasing sunscreen, ensure that your sunscreen mentions being "broad spectrum" as this means that you will be protecting yourself from both UVA and UVB.

c. UVA can cause skin cancer and aging of your skin while UVB causes sun burns and skin cancers.

d. Sunlight has been linked to increasing beta-endorphin levels. Beta- endorphins are our body's natural "painkillers" and will come to the rescue when we are in pain or have trauma inflicted on us. It is our body's natural opioids (narcotic). Endorphins make us feel good when we go for a run but it can also make us like the sun too much. This is how people can get addicted to tanning/sunbathing/indoor tanning.

What I want you to know about Sunscreen and UV Protection:

1. In 2019, the hot topic was that certain chemical ingredients (avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate) were found in detectable levels in the bloodstream after very little use. What does this mean?

2. Physical ingredients are also called mineral ingredients and include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

3. Can sunscreens harm you? We are not sure what the long term consequences are for using chemical ingredients; only time and further research will tell. For now, I recommend sticking with physical blockers (zinc and titanium).

4. SPF 30 is the minimum recommended SPF.

5. Apply Enough: One shot glass is the recommended amount of sunscreen to cover your face and body

6. Apply Frequently: Given that sunscreen wears off quickly, you must reapply every 1-2 hours.

7. Supplement with UPF clothing: Since your sunscreen can take 15 minutes to set in before it becomes effective, ideally you want UPF clothing to also help protect you when stepping out of the house (UPF clothing instantly protects you). There are different grades but UPF 50+ is the best.

8. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV damage.

Brands that I Recommend (I am not sponsored by any of these companies):

+I highly recommend EltaMD. This is my favorite brand. It has the mineral ingredients that you want to stick with but it also rubs in so well, it becomes invisible. Their sunscreens will not make you ghost white like a lot of other physical blockers. I also like their spray on sunscreen that is zinc based: UV Aero. If you have acne-prone skin, try their UV Clear which has niacinamide (anti-inflammatory vitamin that helps with acne and acne rosacea).

+If you swear that every sunscreen causes an "allergic reaction" when step out into the sun, try out Vanicream's sunscreens. They are great for sensitive skin!

+For babies (>6 months) or kids: I liked the baby lines from Neutrogena and Aveeno a lot. I used those for my children. For a higher price point, you can consider Blue Lizard which is also a great physical blocker sunscreen line.

+Other notable mentions include CeraVe and La Roche-Posay. Please refer to my Amazon Storefront page to order these products! They make great Mother's Day/Father's Day/baby shower gifts!

Sunscreen is the best anti-aging product you can implement into your regimen. There are studies that show that consistent use of sunscreen can reverse sun damage and can give you a more youthful appearance with time. I suggest wearing sunscreen all year round, no matter where you live. Living in Seattle, I know that UVA rays are still affecting us as it can penetrate a cloudy sky.

Sunscreen is not bad for you but choose wisely. I don't expect you to live in a dark cave for the rest of your life! I tell my patients to go out and enjoy the sunny weather but enjoy it with sun protection.

I wanted to make my first post on the foundation of all skin care. All of my posts after this will be adding to this foundation. I want to emphasize that as a board-certified dermatologist, I not only detect skin cancer but I also surgically remove these tumors of the skin. Being in private practice in Seattle for the last four years, I can attest that there are a lot of cases of skin cancer despite being in the Pacific NW. So please invest in a sunscreen that works for you and use enough of it and reapply it frequently!

Have fun this summer and take care!

Please follow me on Instagram and subscribe to my YouTube channel! I have a video on Sunscreen as well!

Disclaimers: This post is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment with your healthcare professional. This is for medical educational purposes only. I am not sponsored by any of the companies mentioned in this blog post. As an Amazon Associate and Amazon Influencer, I earn from qualifying purchases through my storefront.

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1 Comment

Unknown member
May 10, 2020

Great advice!! I can’t wait to see more posts :)

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