Summer 2002
What to Look For in a Sunscreen

Mother applying sun lotion on her daughter A hundred years ago, beautiful skin was described as "alabaster," "porcelain," or "creamy"—all words for pale.

Twenty-five years ago, we laughed at that ideal, preferring the "healthy glow" of suntanned skin.

Today, we're beginning to realize that our grandmothers—once again—were right. That bronzed glow we used to bake for is not healthy—it's an invitation to wrinkled, leathery skin, and even worse—skin cancer. Now, few of us would venture out for a day in the sun without a good sunscreen.

But what is a good sunscreen?
"To prevent premature aging of the skin, sunburn, and ultimately protect against cancer, you want a sunscreen that protects against both types of ultraviolet rays—UVA and UVB," says Mark Oestreicher, MD, chief of Dermatology at Bridgeport Hospital. "Here are some qualities or ingredients to look for."

  • Parsol 1789. "Sunscreens have changed," says Dr. Oestreicher. "Early sunscreens protected against UVB (short rays). Those are the rays that cause sunburn, and down the road, maybe even cancer. But today, an ingredient called parsol 1789 also blocks UVA (long rays). These are the ones that cause premature aging."
  • Ultra Fine Zinc Oxide. If you burn easily, look for a product that contains this ingredient. And don't worry, you won't scare the children. Modern zinc oxide sunscreens are quite transparent, not like the thick white ointment you may be thinking of.
  • Water Resistance. Finally, make sure your sunscreen is waterproof, so you won't sweat or swim it off.

Apply the product every 2-3 hours—even if it's waterproof. Remember, sunscreen is not a magical cloak of invisibility. All it does is buy you time in the sun. If your sunscreen is rated SPF (sun protection factor) 20, that means you can stay out 20 times longer without getting burned than you could without a sunscreen.

Be especially vigilant with children, whose tender skin is more likely to burn that an adult's. There is evidence that as few as two or three serious sunburns in youth can increase the risk of skin cancer in adulthood.

And don't think that skin cancer is only skin deep, and not a serious health threat. "Skin cancers are the most common of all cancers, and some types can be fatal," says Dr. Oestreicher.

Why take that risk, when a good application of sunscreen can reduce the chances of future skin damage?

Looking for a dermatologist? Call Bridgeport Hospital Services Referral at 888-357-2396.