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Sharp Health News

What’s in your sun protection toolbox?

Sept. 13, 2017

What’s in your sun protection toolbox?

Protecting your skin from the damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can help prevent premature aging, freckles and other signs of sun damage, as well as help prevent deadly cancers such as melanoma.

One of the most common tools in skin protection is sunscreen, applied daily and year-round. But sunscreen isn’t the only — or even the best — way to protect your skin from damage. It’s easy to under-apply or skip exposed skin, and the smell and feel can be a turnoff.

Dr. Jessica So, a dermatologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, shares other effective types of sun protection.

What sun protection options are available if you don’t like the feel or smell of liquid sunscreen?
Sunscreen is a great tool in our sun protection toolbox, but it certainly isn’t the only option. In fact, I do not recommend it to my patients as their only strategy for protection — it is best to think of sunscreen as a last line of defense. The first lines should be avoidance — especially during peak hours, 10 am to 4 pm — and seeking shade, as well as wearing sun-protective clothing and hats. Sunscreen is great for protecting areas of exposed skin that catch those incidental sun rays, which is very common here in San Diego year-round.

Is mineral powder a good option for face protection?
The powdery finish of mineral powders can limit how much product is used, and therefore the amount of protection it offers, but I find it is a great adjunct to traditional creamy sunscreens and SPF-containing moisturizers, as it is portable and easy to reapply over makeup during the day.

What is the best kind of hat for sun protection?
This is one case where bigger is usually better, but the brim size should not affect safety — especially when participating in outdoor activities. I usually recommend a brim size of at least 3 inches all around, which protects the nose, cheeks, ears and the back of the neck. It is still important to use sunscreen to cover the lower half of the face, especially to protect against UV reflection off water, sand, snow and pavement.

The back of the neck is an area frequently exposed to UV light and is a common location for the development of skin cancers, especially in those with short hair styles. A baseball hat leaves this area exposed. Wide brimmed hats, or a hat with a flap down the back, protects this high-risk area.

Does clothing need to be made from an SPF-rated textile to provide sun protection?
Not necessarily. It is great peace of mind to know the fabric has been laboratory tested to achieve the level of ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) marketed on the tag, but a great way to check yourself is to hold the clothing up to the light. If you can see light coming through it, the sunlight is probably coming through as well. A tightly woven material is better than a lightweight T-shirt.

Should you still apply sunscreen if you are using clothing as a protection method?
Assuming the clothing or hat has a tight weave, sunscreen underneath is not necessarily required. If the weave allows light penetration, sunscreen can be used to increase protection. Sunscreen should be used on any exposed areas (the back of the hands, for example).

Can you skip sunscreen if you will use a parasol or umbrella to stay shaded?
Staying in the shade under an umbrella or other shade structure is better than direct sun exposure, but the UV rays can still reach the skin via reflection off surfaces such as the sand. Over several hours, this is enough UV light to result in a sunburn.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Jessica So about sun protection for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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