Understanding Damage from Sunlight and Advances in Sun Protection - Episode 8

Importance of Patient Education When Selecting a Sunscreen

Dr Susan Taylor, an expert dermatologist, discusses how to increase awareness and avoid misconceptions for individuals using sunscreens.

Susan Taylor, MD, FAAD: It’s very important that all health care providers increase their patients’ awareness of skin damage from sunlight, and that starts with the visit. For all of my visits with patients, I take at least 5 minutes to discuss with them the importance of sunscreen. The discussion is going to differ among patients with different skin types. With those individuals with lighter skin tones, we know that they’re more susceptible to sunburn. We know that they’re more susceptible to skin cancer, for example, as well as the ravages of photoaging. I tell them that the foundation of their sun protection involves the selection of an SPF [sun protection factor] 30 sunscreen or higher. It’s also very important that they look for the term “broad spectrum” that should be right there on the bottle. I explain that means that the sunscreen will protect them from the damaging effects of ultraviolet A light, whereas the SPF number is going to protect them from the ultraviolet B burning rays. I also give them certain facts like sunscreens should be applied every 2 hours, for example, and they don’t last all day long. I give them a guideline for the application, that they need at least a shot glass full for their neck and their face to provide adequate protection. I also discuss sun avoidance, such as wearing hats and protective clothing.

Now in contrast, for my individuals with darker skin tones, I give the same recommendations in terms of SPF 30 or higher, as well as broad-spectrum sunscreen. For those darker-skinned individuals, I emphasize the importance of selecting a sunscreen that is going to protect them from visible light. That means using either a tinted sunscreen that contains iron oxide or pigment titanium dioxide, or one that contains various antioxidants to neutralize those free radicals that cause damage by visible light. I tell them that they must reapply every 2 hours.

For patients with lighter skin tones as well as those with darker skin tones, they have various needs. For example, some patients might have oily skin, so they might select a sunscreen gel formulation. Others with dry skin might select a sunscreen that is hydrating. There are some patients with severe sun damage who are very susceptible and have multiple skin cancers, either basal cells or squamous cells. I might recommend a sunscreen for those individuals that has DNA repair enzymes. It’s very important to tailor the sunscreen recommendation to the specific, not only Fitzpatrick skin type, but also their overall skin type. I tell patients that there are many educational resources available. They can go to the AAD [American Academy of Dermatology] website, that’s one resource, to learn more about sun protection. It really behooves the dermatologist to just spend those 5 minutes during that visit to educate the patient about the importance of sun protection and the damage that sun can have on the skin.

Transcript Edited for Clarity