Is Cheaper Better When It Comes to Sunscreen?

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If a sunscreen costs more money, it must be better, right? Wrong.

I’ve been telling my patients for years that it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money on sunscreens (or facial cleansers) because most brands have similar active ingredients. Now, I’ve got back up: A new Consumer Reports study of sunscreens shows that inexpensive store brand options were among the best.

Consumer Reports examined 12 sunscreens for their effectiveness at protecting against UVA and UVB rays — both of which cause skin cancer. Top honors went to Target’s Up & Up Continuous Spray Sport SPF 50 and Wal-Mart’s Equate Ultra Protection Lotion SPF 50 which were also among the least expensive. Other high-scoring sunscreens included: Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 Lotion and Walgreens Sport Continuous Spray SPF 50.

So you don’t have to buy expensive department-store facial cleansers to have clean, healthy skin. But if you’re using an expensive facial cleanser and love it, then keep using it.

Photo credit: stockmonkeys.com

New Study Proves That Sunscreen Prevents Aging

wrinklesSunscreens prevent aging, don’t they? You’d think that would be an easy question to answer. Turns out, until a few days ago, it wasn’t. That’s because it takes years to conduct such studies.

Now, a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows conclusively that wearing sunscreen helps prevent photoaging — premature aging from the sun, including wrinkles and sun spots. The study participants who applied sunscreen every day showed 24% less skin aging than those told to use the cream as they normally do.

Researchers found that of the 900 men and women in the study, those assigned to use daily sunscreen were less likely to have wrinkles and dark spots after 4.5 years than those who did not regularly use sunscreen.

So, what should you do? Use a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher daily.

And remember, “buckle up and reapply.”

Photo credit, FCC, gracieandviv

Melanoma Is on the Rise in Children

Classic beach picture

There are few sights cuter than a toddler waddling her way along the beach.

There are few sights sadder than a toddler with a raging sunburn, particularly to the eyes of a dermatologist. That’s because we know how damaging even one sunburn can be to a child. In fact, just one blistering sunburn in childhood will more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. 

An infant’s skin has very little melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its color) which makes them especially vulnerable to sun damage. This is why babies 6 months old and younger should be kept out of the sun completely. Sunscreen is too harsh for their delicate infant skin.

Why is sun protection so important? Because we know that sun damage causes skin cancer in children, adolescents, and adults. While melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is still rare in children, a new report published in April 2013, shows that it is actually rising in children. Researchers from Washington University and Harvard have found that the incidence of childhood and adolescent melanoma has increased an average of 2% per year from 1973 to 2009. Moreover, melanoma is nine times more common between the ages of 10 and 20 than it is between birth and 10 years. So, protecting your child from the sun will help protect her from skin cancer throughout her life.

Here’s how to keep your child safe while still having fun in the sun:

  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 to 50 about 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Reapply every 2 to 4 hours, or more frequently if your child is sweating or swimming. Don’t forget to apply it to their ears, neck, hairline, hands, and feet. Do not use sunscreen on children 6 months old and younger.
  • Cover up: Your child won’t get a sunburn through clothing. So wearing lightweight protective clothing such as long-sleeved tops and pants is an excellent way to prevent sun damage. Consider buying a protective baby suit like this one or a sun-protective rash guard clothing like this long-sleeved top for toddlers.
  • Hats & Sunglasses: They’re not just fashion accessories; they’re sun-protective.
  • Seek the shade: Remember that the sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm, so limiting your child’s time outdoors during those hours will help. If that’s not possible, then be sure to sneak in shade breaks throughout the day.

Skincancer.org offers more helpful information about sun protection for infants, babies, and toddlers.

One more thing…. Have you gotten naked for someone you love yet? May is Melanoma Awareness Month which means it’s time to get naked and do a skin exam. Please help spread the word by posting about this and about your skin check! Use the hashtag #GNFSYL on Twitter.

Photo credit: FCC, Stevie Lee

How to Apply Sunless Tanners in 8 Steps

spray tan dublin

When I opened the door to my exam room the other day and greeted my teenage patient, she said, “Hi,” and gave me a little wave. I noticed her palm was burnt orange.

“Been eating a lot of carrots lately?” I joked.

“Self-tanner,” she replied, deadpan.

“Right,” I said.

I proceeded to tell her that I was happy she was choosing sunless tanner over actual tanning, especially since melanoma is soaring in young adults and that using an indoor tanning device can increase your risk for developing melanoma by 74% compared to non-users.

The safest tan is no tan, but I know that many teens and adults like the look of tanned skin. So, the next best option is sunless tanners. The “tan” from unless tanners comes from dihydroxyacetone (DHA), a coloring agent that binds to proteins on the skin’s surface, making it appear tanned. While rumors swirl about the dangers of tanning aerosols, there is no clear evidence that DHA, when applied topically and used as directed, is dangerous to humans. DHA does not penetrate the skin like UV rays; therefore, it is a safe alternative to actual tanning. It’s also the only agent approved for use by the FDA.

Despite it’s safety, it’s still a good idea to use aerosol self-tanners in a well-ventilated area since the effects of inhalation are still unknown. Self-tanning wipes are easily portable, but can go on streaky, while gels can cause drying, making the skin feel tight. Creams and lotions are the easiest to apply and are most popular. Self-tanners should always be used in conjunction with broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.

Here’s how to apply sunless tanners in 8 steps without looking like a carrot:

1. Exfoliate skin with a dry washcloth to slough off dead skin cells and smooth out skin’s surface.

2. Apply moisturizer and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before applying your tanner. If your skin is at all greasy, gently dab it with a soft, dry cloth. Pay particular attention to elbows and knees, where the skin is thicker, as color deposited there can become more concentrated.

3. Wear latex gloves to avoid orange-stained palms like my patient’s. If you don’t like gloves, then apply Vaseline petroleum jelly on your fingernails and fingertips to avoid staining.

4. Apply in sections, such as legs, abdomen, back, arms, etc. It’ll reduce your chances of streaks and missed spots.

5. Blend well at joints including wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles for a natural look.

6. Dry and set. Wait 15 to 20 minutes for the tanner to set before getting dressed. Avoid sweating and washing for the next 3 hours.

7. Reapply as needed. Most sunless tanners last about 5 days. Be patient. It may take 2 to 3 applications to reach your desired color. Once you do, reapply about 3 times per week to maintain that shade.

8. Use sunscreen. Sunless tanners are NOT sun-protective. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 daily and re-apply every 4 hours, or more frequently, if sweating or playing water sports.

Do you have any questions about using self-tanners or any recommendations to share? Please let us know in the comment section below.

Photo credit: FCC, jaissus

4 Tips to Use Retinoids the Right Way

Can’t tolerate your retinoid? You’re not alone.

I prescribe a lot of retinoids because they work. Originally intended to treat acne, we now know that retinoids are an effective anti-aging treatment as well, reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and spots. Yet, many of my patients who start on retinoids contact me within a week to complain that their face is red and peeling.

They’re not allergic or intolerant to the retinoid. In fact, redness and peeling are both signs that the retinoid is working. It’s actually sloughing off old skin to reveal new skin underneath. That doesn’t mean they or you have to suffer.

Here are 4 tips to use retinoids the right way:

1. Take a break. If your face is flaking like a Noreaster or looks wind-burned, then take 5 to 7 days off. When you resume the retinoid, use it every third or fourth night. You’ll get the same benefits without the discomfort.

2. Stop using all of your anti-aging and acne products, especially those containing glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or benzoyl peroxide, unless otherwise directed by your physician.

3. Before applying a retinoid at night, be sure your face is washed and completely dry. This might require waiting a few minutes after washing. Apply pea-sized or smaller dabs of retinoid on your forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin and gently massage into the skin. Do not apply to your eyelids or lips.

4. Always wear sunscreen when you’re using a retinoid, even in winter, as it significantly increases your sensitivity to the sun.

Photo credit: FCC, Alyssa L. Miller

7 Ways to Get Your Skin Ready for Fall and Winter

walking in snow

I know I’m in New York not because of the pretzels and bright lights but because my skin is dry. Living in San Diego has made me soft.

Summertime means humidity, and few people like humidity. But your skin loves it because humidity prevents it from drying out.

With winter’s arrival comes humidity’s departure. The air becomes cooler and drier, and your skin doesn’t react well. It becomes dry, irritated, and damaged.

Here are 7 tips for keeping your skin healthy this fall and winter:

1. Wash wisely: Use a moisturizing body wash such as Dove Body Wash made with Nutrium Moisture, 100% natural moisturizers that actually puts moisture back into your skin.

2. Take a short shower: Keep showers under 5 minutes and use warm water, as hot water removes healthy oils from your skin.

3. Go omega: Eat more foods high in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, halibut, and flaxseed oil. Flaxseed oil is the highest in omega-3 fatty acids of all vegetable oils which helps keeps your skin soft and prevents it from drying out.

4. Rev up your vitamins: Vitamin E is critical for protecting and repairing skin. Good food sources of vitamin E include almonds, walnuts, avocados, and sunflower seeds. Vitamin C-packed berries such as blueberries and raspberries help keep collagen healthy and reduce free radicals that cause aging.

5. Cover up. Exposed skin is susceptible skin. When outdoors in the cold and wind, wear gloves, scarves, and hats to keep skin protected.

6. Stay protected: Unless it’s dark and stormy, keep using your broad spectrum sunscreen SPF 30. Just because summer’s over, doesn’t mean the sun can’t still do damage. It’s always safer to stay protected.

7. Clean house: Toss any sunscreens, lotions, or make-up that’s been damaged from the summer heat—melted foundations, clumpy mascara, funky smelling creams. It’s not worth risking a skin infection. Plus, it’s an excuse to go shopping.

Photo credit: FCC, zoetnet

Disclosure: I have been a consultant to UniLever, the company that makes Dove, since 2011. I’ve been using Dove since I was 11.

Seeing Spots: Brown, Liver, Age and Sun Spots

Veronica Lake

Recently, while I was in Providence, RI my father-in-law pointed to the flurry of brown spots on the back of his hand and asked, “Are these liver spots?”

They’re not liver spots or age spots. Brown spots on the back of your hands are sun spots caused from excess sun exposure and aging. They have nothing to do with your liver.

They appear most commonly on the back of your hands, your face, and your forearms and are usually benign. The best prevention against developing sun spots is sunscreen and clothing.

The best treatments for removing sun spots are cryotherapy (having a dermatologist freeze them off with liquid nitrogen) or laser treatments. Bleaching creams and Retin-A do little to remove sun spots, while at-home treatments such as lemon juice and baking soda scrubs do nothing. Once the spots are removed, you must wear sunscreen or they’ll come back.

Or you could do like Veronica Lake did and wear glamorous long cotton or silk gloves. Course I don’t think I’ll recommend that to my father-in-law.

Photo credit: FCC, RobertHuffStutter