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All Things Sunscreen with Dr. Alexandra Zeitany

All Things Sunscreen with Dr. Alexandra Zeitany

In honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we are collaborating with leaders in the sun safe community throughout the month to further our mission to prevent skin cancer & share the importance of sun safe habits.

Founded by a skin cancer survivor, Cabana Life is passionate about sun protection, and to give you the best information, we reached out to experts in the field: our favorite dermatologists! We are so excited to feature Dr. Alexandra Zeitany. She is a Board Certified Dermatologist at Davie Dermatology in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. You can find her practice @daviedermatology on Instagram & @daviederm on Facebook. Read below to learn more about sunscreen with Dr. Zeitany. 

What are common regulations with sunscreen?

Sunscreens must be labeled with their sun protective value (or SPF). There are regulations in place that state the maximum SPF value on sunscreen be 60+, but you will still find sunscreens labeled SPF 70 or even 100. We will talk about what this number means in just a minute. The FDA also regulates that if a sunscreen is labeled “broad spectrum” it must protect against UVA & UVB radiation, both of which contribute to burning & skin cancer formation. The FDA also requires all sunscreen have an expiration date.

What is the difference between chemical & mineral sunscreens?

Mineral sunscreens have ingredients like zinc & titanium oxide. They are also known as physical blockers because they “physically” sit on top of the skin and block UV radiation. They often can leave a white cast on the skin, although the new micro-ionized forms help avoid this. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV radiation, but they can also be absorbed through your skin & potentially into your blood stream. Another key difference is mineral sunscreens begin working as soon as you apply them. It takes chemical sunscreens about 15 minutes to begin working once applied to the skin so I always recommend you use these BEFORE going outside.

What are your favorite brands & products?

I always hesitate to recommend specific brands because really understanding labels, ingredients & your unique skin type are the most important factors in finding the sunscreen that is right for you. For my kids, I like fragrance free physical blocking sunscreens like Blue Lizard. For everyday use on my face, I love EltaMD products & often use powder sunscreens, like Supergoop, for reapplication. For beach days, we like Sun Bum spray on our body as its broad spectrum and water resistant, but I try to find a physical blocking sunscreen for my face & often use a zinc oxide stick from Neutrogena.

What is the difference between SPF 30 & SPF 50? What SPF level should I be using?

The SPF numbers tells you how long the sun’s UV radiation would take to redden your skin when using the product versus the amount of time without any sunscreen. So, with SPF 30 it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen, an SPF 50, 50 times longer. We used to say that an SPF of 30 was sufficient & this is still what I recommend for everyday use. But newer studies have shown that in real life, we don’t use enough sunscreen so you do not get true SPF 30 protection with an SPF 30 sunscreen. Because of this, we now recommend you opt for a higher SPF (like 50) for those long days outdoors.

What should I look for when picking out sunscreen?

The most important thing to look for when picking a sunscreen is the SPF value. For daily use, you want an SPF of at least 30. For long days outdoors, especially in the summer, opt for an SPF closer to 50.

For those with sensitive skin or children, look for sunscreens labeled “fragrance free.” For those with oily or acne prone skin, look for sunscreens that are “oil free” or “non-comedogenic” especially for use on the face. If you have any pigmentary disorders (like melasma) look for tinted sunscreens with physical blockers. And lastly, if you are going to be sweating or swimming, physical blocking sunscreen or those labeled “sweat resistant” have more staying power.

How often should you really reapply sunscreen?

I tell my patients to reapply every 2-3 hours when you are outdoors. If you are sweating or swimming, you may need to do this more frequently.

Are sunscreen sticks & sprays as effective as lotions? Does it matter which one or is it all personal preference?

In terms of the chemical make-up, sticks, sprays & lotions are all equally effective. The key is how well you apply them! It can be easy to miss areas with sprays, especially when used outdoors in places like the beach with lots of wind. So if you like spray sunscreen, I recommend you apply this BEFORE going outside. Make sure you are holding the canister close to your body. And remember it takes about a shot glass worth of sunscreen (or 1.5 oz) to cover an adult body.

Do certain products work better on different parts of the body?

No they don’t, it’s really based on your personal preference. I do recommend “oil free” or “non-comedogenic” products on the face for those with oily or acne prone skin & powders work well for the scalp, but otherwise go with what you will use! One tip I have is buying zinc oxide sticks for your kids (especially toddlers). If they are in the “do it myself” phase (like my son) it allows them to help apply their own sunscreen & helps make it part of their routine.

What's one thing everyone should know about sunscreen?

Wearing sunscreen is great, but it doesn’t mean you can lay outside all day & fry yourself in the sun. Even if you’re wearing sunscreen, you should take other steps to protect your skin from UV radiation as well like using an umbrella, wide brimmed hat, or sun protective clothing & try to plan your outdoor activities either before 10AM or after 4PM when the sun’s radiation is not as intense.

What is your sunscreen routine? How often do you reapply?

For everyday use, I apply a tinted sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to my face & neck in the morning. On my drive home, I reapply a translucent sunscreen powder in the car.

For days I’m outside for more than 30 minutes, I step it up & apply an SPF of 50 to any exposed skin and I reapply every 2 hours. I am also a big fan of UPF clothing so I try to wear wide brimmed hats, sunglasses & long sleeve shirts as much as I can to minimize how much sunscreen I have to apply. Reapplication becomes more complicated when you’re chasing after a toddler!

What's the biggest sunscreen myth you've heard?

People talk about not using sunscreen at the beginning of the summer to get a “base tan” to help them not burn later in the season. But this is completely false! There is no such thing as a “safe tan” & getting a base tan doesn’t help you get less burned. So make sunscreen part of your routine every time you are outdoors, year round, regardless of the weather.

Is there anything else people need to know about sunscreen?

It sounds trite, but it’s true, the best sunscreen is the one you will actually wear! So don’t get so caught up in labels & brands that you end up with a sunscreen you hate and then will dread using. Find something you like and stick with it. It really is the most important step of your skincare routine, so it’s worth splurging on if it means you will use it more reliably!

We always trust the professionals when it comes to sun protection! We hope these tips help you to enjoy the sunshine while staying protected from UV rays.

Look out for more Dermatologist Q&A's & follow our Skin Cancer Awareness Month campaign on Facebook & Instagram. And don’t miss Dr. Zeitany’s suggestions on youthful sun safe skin

Now that you are the expert on everything you need to know about sunscreen, complete your new sun safety routine with stylish UPF 50+ clothing & swimwear for the whole family. Check out our new arrivals for dermatologist-approved sun protection you’ll love.