Ask the Doctor!

by Dr. Shara Brody

Question: My mom is always bugging me to wear sunscreen. What does it do, exactly? Why do I have to wear it?

Your mom is absolutely right to encourage you to wear sunscreen! The majority of our exposure to the damaging rays of the sun occurs before we are 18 years old. Developing a sunscreen routine now is very important.

What does sunscreen do?

A sunscreen product acts like a protective coating on our skin, stopping the sun’s dangerous UVA and UVB rays before they can reach the skin and cause damage. To provide a high level of protection, a sunscreen product should be labeled SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30 or higher, and must be applied in the right amount at the right time.

Why do I have to wear sunscreen?

The UVA and UVB rays of the sun can cause burning of the skin, signs of skin aging such as wrinkles and discoloration, skin cancer, eye damage, and can even affect the body’s ability to fight off infection and disease. Using sunscreen properly helps protect us from these dangers.

What is the proper way to use sunscreen?

15 to 30 minutes before going outside (even on cloudy or overcast days), generously apply a sunscreen product with an SPF 30 or higher to your skin. Remember that the rays of the sun can pass through your clothing (especially a light color or thin fabric), so you need to apply sunscreen all over your body.

Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, or more often if you’re in the water or sweating a lot. Read the instructions on the bottle and follow them carefully!

Are there other things I can do to protect myself?

Here are some other ways you can protect yourself from the sun’s rays:

Wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV protection.

Ask your doctor or pharmacist if any medicine you take can increase sun sensitivity. If so, take extra precautions.

Seek shade when the sun is strongest (usually between 10 am and 4 pm).

Wear a hat with a wide brim to shadow your face.

NEVER use a tanning bed.

What should I do if I get a sunburn?

If you get a sunburn, here are some ways to find relief:

Take a cool bath, or gently apply cool, wet towels to the skin to help alleviate pain and heat.

Apply a topical aloe vera gel or moisturizing cream to rehydrate the skin and stop the itching.

Avoid additional sun exposure until your burn has healed.

If the sunburn is severe, or blisters develop, call your doctor.

Before you go outside, simply remember to “Slip! Slop! Slap!” Slip on a long-sleeved shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, and go have some fun!

Dr. Shara Brody is a graduate of Nova Southeastern University College of Medicine in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She currently works within the Department of Neurology at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Memorial Hospital. Originally from North Carolina, she now resides in Surfside, Florida with her wonderful husband, David, and their two fabulous daughters.