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Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Shady Side of Sunscreens

Health for the Whole Family

August 2012

How many times have you seen the claims “total,” “all-day,” or “waterproof” protection on the back of your sunscreens? The truth of the matter is, no sunscreen can completely screen or block the sun’s hazardous ultraviolet rays. With the majority of skin cancers attributed to sun exposure, it is essential to get the facts about sunscreen and learn how to protect yourself when out in the sun. Dr. Yoshi Rahm, DO, an osteopathic family physician from Glendale, California tells us what ingredients to look for in sunscreens and offers tips to keep us protected from the sun’s damaging rays.

What to look for when shopping for sunscreens
Most sunscreens only protect against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which cause sun burns. They do not combat ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which contribute to wrinkles, premature aging and, potentially, skin cancer. “The majority of my patients base their sunscreen purchases on the sun protection factor (SPF) number on the product. They think that the higher the SPF, the better the protection,” says Dr. Rahm. However, the SPF number only indicates how long the product will protect the skin before it begins to burn. More than 84% of suntan lotions with high SPF levels, according to the Environmental Working Group, actually fail to protect sunbathers against all harmful rays. “Instead of only looking at SPF numbers, I always tell my patients to purchase a broad spectrum sunscreen that includes ingredients such as avobenzone, Mexoral SX, micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which shield against both UVA and UVB rays that contribute to skin cancers. You’re missing out on half the protection if you focus on the sun protection factor (SPF) alone,” he says.  What about the potential hazardous and toxic effects of all those ingredients listed in sunscreen? In that case you want to get a sunscreen with the active ingredients listed as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide because they are non toxic and offer protections against UVA and UVB rays. Embarrassed to slather on all that thick pasty zinc in front of hundreds of other beach goers?  Great news, Dr. Rahm says “there’s even clear zinc sunscreens available now!”

Sunscreen Application Tips
Sunscreens use ingredients that deteriorate after long exposure to sun or heat. “Typically after three to four hours, sunscreen sweats off, washes off or wears off; plan on reapplying frequently,” advises Dr. Rahm. “For the best protection, use sunscreen lotion, apply on dry skin, allow 30 minutes for the product to absorb into the skin before going outside, and reapply every four hours. Also make sure to apply the sunscreen to all your exposed areas, including ears, feet, eyelids, and bald spots,” he says. As for how much sunscreen to apply, Dr. Rahm recommends the equivalent of a shot glass full of sunscreen for adults and a heaping tablespoon for young kids. Additionally, aim to use water resistant formulations if by the pool or ocean.

Sunsetting Thoughts on Sun Protection
“It is important to develop and maintain a sun protection regimen throughout the year,” says Dr. Rahm. “You should apply sunscreen every day, year-round, not just during the warm weather months.” In addition, Dr. Rahm recommends the following:
  1. Wear protective clothing; something in a lightweight, nylon-polyester blend that wicks moisture. Tightly woven fabrics provide more protection. Clothing made of sun protection fabrics, such as the Solumbra line, provide additional protection and are especially effective for young children and outdoor workers.
  2. Wear wide-brimmed hats and wrap-around sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection for your eyes.
  3. Apply lip balm with broad spectrum protection to lips.
  4. Be mindful of the time of day. The most common time for sunburn risk is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  5. Check the weather forecast for the UV index. This is often located on the weather page of the local newspaper and lists the intensity of the UV rays for that day. Any value of five or greater means that sunscreen should be used for that day.
Dr. Rahm points out that getting approximately 15 minutes of direct sunshine on a daily basis is good for building up Vitamin D which is a neurohormone made in the skin and is important for many functions of a healthy body (to be discussed in a future article).  However, “protecting yourself from UV rays should be a part of your daily routine if more than 15 minutes are expected,” says Dr. Rahm. “Not only will you be doing your skin a favor in terms of preventing skin damage, but you are also preventing skin cancer and, potentially, saving your life.”

Preventive medicine is just one aspect of care osteopathic physicians provide. DOs are fully licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas, including surgery. DOs are trained to consider the health of the whole person and use their hands to help diagnose and treat their patients.

To learn more about Dr. Yoshi Rahm visit his website at

Medical Disclaimer: Information provided in this blog is for informational purposes only. The information is a result of years of practice and experience by Yoshi Rahm, DO. However, this information is NOT intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional, or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging.

Do not use the information provided in this blog for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing medication or other treatment. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read in this blog.

Information provided in this blog and the use of any products or services related to this blog by you DOES NOT create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Yoshi Rahm, DO. or any other physician featured in this blog. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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