Ask Your Pharmacist

June 1, 2020
Q:

There are so many sunscreens on the market that it’s hard to know if I am choosing a good one. What do I need to look for in a sunscreen?

A:

This is such a great topic, not to mention timely. There is so much we can do to protect ourselves and our little ones from the sun, while staying active and enjoying the outdoors in New Brunswick. Thank you to the New Brunswick dermatology clinic of Drs Douglas Keeling, Robert Hayes, and Anne- Marie Hunt for collaborating with me on this column.

About 80 per cent of damaging ultraviolet light exposure occurs between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Take this knowledge into account when choosing outdoor activities this summer, like that round of 18 holes. Wearing ‘sun-safer’ clothing with ultraviolet protective factor (UPF), ultraviolet protective eye wear, and wider brimmed hats, is especially important during these hours. If you already have sun damaged skin, avoid going out in the sun during these peak times. 

What is the difference between UVA and UVB?

Bottom line: both types of ultraviolet light, UVA and UVB, damage your skin in a way that leads to skin cancer. UVB is connected to sun protection factor (SPF) and is responsible for sun burns.  Damage caused by burns is strongly linked to melanoma. UVA is connected to the term ‘broad spectrum’. UVA is associated with many types of skin cancer and may also cause sun burn.  Health Canada advises choosing a broad-spectrum product with a minimum SPF of 30.  Dermatologists advise, especially for those with pre-existing skin conditions or skin damage, to use an SPF of 60 or 70.

Which is better, sunscreen or sunblock?

Both types of protection are effective, if used properly. The key is to choose a product that is a good fit for your lifestyle. If you are not comfortable with the product, you aren’t going to use it. Test your chosen product on a small patch of skin first to see if it agrees with your skin. Sun blocks such as titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide act as physical barriers which tend to be thicker, and more visible on the skin. If you are someone for example, who develops pimples easily, this may be too much for your skin. 

Sunscreens containing active ingredients such as homosalate, oxybenzone, octocrylene, or avobenzon, are creamier but can run off quicker with perspiration and water. If using a spray-on product, spray your hands with the spray and then apply to your skin. This will help avoid getting the product in your eyes or mouth.

Choose a product with protection against both UVA and UVB, and that is water resistant. Be sure to check the expiry date of your sun care product.

How much sunscreen should I apply?

Follow the “Teaspoon Rule”. Apply one teaspoon (five mL) of sunscreen for the face, head, and neck.  Apply one teaspoon each to the upper extremities. Apply one teaspoon each to the front torso and the back torso and two teaspoons each to the lower extremities. In total, apply nine teaspoons (45 ml) for the whole body. Apply 15 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours.

How should I protect my child from the sun?

I found great advice for young New Brunswickers on the Canadian Pediatric Society: https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/sun_safety. The best advice is to keep babies out of the sun, especially during peak hours. Consult your pharmacist before using sunscreen on babies under six months of age. 

Your child should wear a sun hat with a wide brim and back flap to protect the back of the neck, sunglasses with 100% UV protection (“broad spectrum”) and loose cotton clothing to protect skin from the sun’s rays. Use a stroller sunshade to cover your baby, properly apply a small amount of sunscreen with SPF 30 on exposed areas. Remember to put sunblock on ears, nose, back of neck and legs, and tops of feet. Most importantly, lead by example and remember to protect yourself from the sun as well. Make protecting yourself against sun exposure a part of your family’s life. For a list of dermatologist-recognized sunscreens, please go to the Canadian Dermatology Association: https://dermatology.ca/public-patients/recognized-products/sunscreen/

Dr Kevin Duplisea (PharmD BSc. Pharm, BSc. ACPR) is a pharmacist at Sharp’s Corner Drugstore in Sussex, New Brunswick. His opinions expressed in this newspaper are published for educational and informational purposes only, and are not intended as a diagnosis, treatment or as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Send your questions to AskYourNBPharmacist@gmail.com.