Skip to main content

Sunscreens: don’t get burnt!


Although sunscreens are important all year round, they are especially important in the summer months to protect your skin from aging and cancers.

Consumer Reports reviewed 10 well known sunscreens in July 2009 and assessed UVA and UVB protection and their waterproof effectivness and had some interesting findings.  To clear up some definitions:

  • UVA rays are penetrating rays that can cause sunburn, wrinkles, pigmentation disorders and skin cancers.
  • UVB rays cause sunburn and other sink damage and also contribute to skin cancer.  The UVB rays are most responsible for sunburn.
  • SPF is sun protection factor and measures the UVB sunburn protection on treated skin as compared to skin with no sunscreen.  The way this is calculates is as follows.  Untreated skin normally takes 10 minutes to turn red.  An SPF of 30 lengthens that time to about 300 minutes.
  • Broad Spectrum implies that the product blocks both UVA and UVB rays (but does not indicate how effective the product is at each).
  • PABA-Free means that the product contains no esters of para-aminobenzoic acid.  Older products with PABA can cause skin reactions, but are rare in products made in the USA.
  • Water Resistant means that the product maintains the stated SPF for 40 minutes in the water.
  • Vary Water Resistant means that the product maintains the stated SPF for 80 minutes in the water.
  • Total Sun block are those with pigments such as zinc oxide that do not allow any sun rays to penetrate.  These are often worn on the nose or lips of sun sensitive individuals.
  • Nanoparticles are particles different chemical or physical characteristics from normal sized particles.  These are often used with zinc oxide or other pigments that totally block the sun rays.  My using nanoparticles, the material looks clearer on the skin. There is some concern about the safety of nanoparticles on human health.  For more info go to and search for nanotechnology.

When shopping for sunscreens, purchase a product labeled “very water resistant” or “waterproof” with an SPF of at least 30 which is plenty for most people.  An SPF of 30 is an easy number to remember and in fact, the FDA is has announced plans to limit SPF numbers at 50.  With this change, sunscreens that provide more than protection than 50 will be labeled 50+.

The highest rated sunscreens by Consumer Reports were:

1. Aveeno Continuous Protection Spray SPF 45. Cost $2.43

2.  Target Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30. Cost $.87

3.  CVS Sunblock with Zinc Oxide for Face, Nose & Ears lotion. SPF 45. Cost $2.33

The Consumer Reports Best Buy were:

1. Walgreen’s Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50. Cost $1.33

2.  Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 Lotion. Cost $1.14

3.  Target Sport Continuous Spray SPF 30. Cost $.87

You can see that you don’t have to spend a lot to get good sun protection and in fact many people waste money on exotic sounding labels that may provide less protection.  There are some important facts to remember before going into the sun.

  • Apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow for the absorption and coverage.
  • Apply at least 2-3 table spoons of sunscreen for the average adult.  This is a lot of sunscreen!  Most people apply way too little product.
  • Reapply every 2 hours or after swimming or heavy sweating.  This is very important
  • Wash your clothes after a day at the beach as all of the products can cause stains when left on clothes.
  • Discard sunscreens that are more than 2 years old as they lose potency.  Since there is no expiration date on the bottle, mark the purchase date with a magic marker!
  • Don’t rely solely on sunscreen to prevent aging and cancer.  Protect you skin with clothing, hats and sunglasses.  This is especially important for people with light skin, hair and eye color.
  • Avoid direct sunlight during the hottest times from 10AM-2PM.

There is no doubt that sun exposure accelerates skin aging and the incidence of skin cancer.  Every patient should have a full body mole exam on a yearly basis.  The excessively tanned look is a thing of the past and very few patients are going to avoid the sun completely, so use your head, use moderation and use sunscreen to stay younger longer.

Much sun damage is invisible to the naked eye and Dr. Niamtu offers complimentary skin scanning with the Canfield Reveal Skin Scanner.  You can see in the picture below that in normal light a patient shows little skin damage but with the scanner, there is no doubt about the extent of the damage.  Most patients are shocked to see the degree of sun damage they have.

robscan This image shows a patient in normal light and in the Reveal Skin Scanner.

To keep your skin younger it is important to use Retin-A and some form of bleaching cream.  The Obagi Nu Derm system is an excellent means of maintaining young and healthy skin.  For patients that desire to reverse sun damage and improve wrinkles and sunspots as well as tighten the skin, Dr. Niamtu offers many treatments including CO2 laser resurfacing, Fraxel Laser, Active FX laser and Deep FX laser as well as Vascular Lasers for spider vein treatment.  Chemical peels are also effective for reversing sun damage and Dr. Niamtu provides numerous types of chemical face peels.


The above image shows a patient before and after CO2 laser skin resurfacing to improve wrinkles,sun damage and sun spots.

Visit to find out more about reversing sun damage and keeping healthy skin as well as other cosmetic facial surgery topics.

Joe Niamtu, III DMD

Cosmetic Facial Surgery

Richmond, Virginia

Office Address

Joe Niamtu III, DMD
11319 Polo Place
Midlothian, VA 23113

Office Hours

Monday - Friday
8:00am - 5:00pm

Link to Cosmetic Facial Surgery home page
Making Virginia More Beautiful...One face at a Time
Meet Dr. JoeOnline ConsultationSchedule An AppointmentHome
Click to open and close visual accessibility options. The options include increasing font-size and color contrast.