Why You Want Your Sunscreen To Look White

It’s the time of year for sunscreens. Spring break is in full swing and summertime is right around the corner. After coming back from spring break myself, I want to share a few tips on why you should slather on sunscreen and how to do it so your family doesn’t get burned. Slathering on sunscreen is one of Dr. Amy’s Daily 4 so here’s why to slather on sunscreen and why you want your sunscreen to look white.

Why sunscreen?

You may have heard some of this information before, but it’s so important that it bears repeating. Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is known to be carcinogenic (cancer causing) and found to cause specific DNA damage that can lead to the risk of skin cancer development. UVA and UVB are both the primary rays of the sun that lead to skin cancer development. UVA has a longer wavelength of light and penetrates deeper so it also causes our skin to age. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength of light. UVB rays are actually the rays that cause sunburn and skin damage. About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 65% of melanoma skin cancers are associated with lots of ultraviolet radiation. Studies have shown that the risk for developing melanoma can be reduced by wearing a sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.

Sunscreens are products that have a combination of active ingredients, which offer UVA and/or UVB protection. You may notice sunscreens listing multiple active ingredients. Different chemicals block UVA rays and other chemicals block UVB rays. Sunscreens with a combination of these ingredients provide better coverage against both types of rays. Also, a combination of these ingredients can balance one another to make each more effective. Zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are physical (“chemical-free”) blockers and provide both broad UVA and UVB protection.

SPF stands for sun protection factor. It measures the ability of a sunscreen to protect from UVB radiation. An SPF 15 means that that sunscreen protects you from sun burning 15 times longer than if you didn’t use anything. For example, if you burn in 10 minutes, that sunscreen prevents you from burning or reddening for 2.5 hours.

In late 2012, the FDA issued new regulations regarding sunscreen. Sunscreens that meet FDA standards for UVA and UVB protection may be labeled “broad spectrum.” Therefore, it is important when purchasing sunscreen to look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF. We recommend purchasing broad-spectrum sunscreens with at least a 30 SPF.


Why do you want your sunscreen to look white?

When a sunscreen looks white on the skin, people in the skin care industry call it “white on.” Many people think this means their sunscreen is not rubbing in well. This is not true! Chemical-free sunscreens often use a combination of zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as the active sunscreen ingredients. They both physically block out both the harmful UVA and UVB rays and appear white on your skin. Since both zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are chemical-free, which means they won’t irritate the skin. These chemical free, physical blockers leave a white sheen on the skin and are recommended for use with babies over six months old and for children.

Another reason you want to see white sunscreen traces on the skin is the size of the sunscreen particles themselves. There are some concerns regarding nanoparticle technology. Nanoparticles are tiny particles with sizes in the range of 15-100 nm. Some experts say that nanoparticles cannot pass through healthy human skin, but this fact is still being debated. Experts think that nanoparticles can pass through skin that has any openings or issues, like eczema-prone skin. There is also concern about nanoparticles being inhaled because of their small size. Sometimes zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, while they are chemical free, can be in the form of nanoparticles, and could be absorbed through the skin into internal organs. Baby Pibu chose does not use any nanoparticle technology in our sunscreen. Instead, we use micronized particles that are much larger than nanoparticles and cannot get absorbed through the skin. It is micronized particles of sunscreen that cause that whitish sheen. You know your sunscreen is not being absorbed through the skin when you see a whitish sheen. Baby Pibu Sunscreen SPF 30+ ontains micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

As you slather your child with a chemical free broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen, make sure you the “white on” on the skin.

Tips for how to apply sunscreen

Recently, my family came home from a spring break beach trip without anyone getting sunburned. I know, I know – that’s expected from a dermatologist-mom. But how did I do it? Read on for my tips on applying sunscreen:

Slather on the sunscreen at the same time you’re putting on your swimsuit.

I see so many people at the beach shotglasssunscreenSunscreen in a shot glassor poolside applying their sunscreen. It’s too late once you’re sitting in the sun! Pediatricians recommend letting your little ones get 15 minutes of sun without sunscreen so that the Vitamin D can start being produced. This rule makes sense if you’re outside at home or at the park. However, when you know you’re about to get an intense amount of sunshine, be prepared. Slathering the sunscreen onto your child’s naked body allows you to make sure no spots are missed. It took about 1 oz. of sunscreen to slather both of my young children (ages 3 and 5). This makes sense considering it takes anaverage of 1 oz. sunscreen to cover an adult. After you slather on the sunscreen, then you can put on your swimsuit.

Seek shade, slap on a hat and slip on a UPF swim shirt.

Ultraviolet protected factor (UPF) swim shirts allow for whiteonsunscreenSunscreen “white on” with UPF hat and shirtextra coverage in case you missed a spot when slathering the sunscreen and in case you forget to reapply. Seek shade means whenever possible seek the shade. Of course, you can go in the pool and enjoy some time in the sun. Just seek shade when you’re sitting on the side of the pool or at the beach.

Reapply and re-slather.

Slather on sunscreen at least every 1 ½ to 2 hours or after water exposure. When I ask my patients if they do this, they usually don’t re-slather. Many people presume that a very high SPF offers more and longer protection. This is not the case. Many sunscreens have chemicals that break down over time and are not working as effectively. To be sure, reapply every 1 ½ – 2 hours.

So as you’re headed out to the pool or beach for spring break, and as we head into summer, I hope you’ll remember to slather on a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen. And remember to look for the white on! Enjoy the beautiful weather!

~ Dr. Amy


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