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Can your sunscreen beat the heat?

By Samantha Smith

As Central Texas nears the “dog days of summer,” residents are faced with the ageless debate over sunscreen usage and what really matters when it comes to sun protection. 

According to Dr. Ammar Ahmed M.D., a dermatologist at Seton Medical Center Hays, there are a few important points to remember when thinking about buying sunscreen.

Ahmed said that a sunscreen’s SPF rating only rates the products ability to block ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays from affecting the skin.

“We (dermatologists) usually recommend to use a sunscreen with at least 30 SPF, but I believe higher is always better so I recommend 50 SPF,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed referenced the overwhelming information on the divide in the medical community concerning whether or not a sunscreen with an sun protection factor (SPF) rating higher than 50 is really more effective.

“There are studies that indicate that it may not be beneficial to go higher than 50 SPF,” said Ahmed.

But more than a sunscreen’s SPF rating, Ahmed pointed out that many people do not apply sunscreen as directed by the sunscreen manufacturers.

Ahmed said when sunscreen is tested for it’s efficacy in blocking UVB rays, the volume of sunscreen used to measure those levels is more than the average adult uses on themselves before sun exposure.

No matter what SPF rating the sunscreen has, it is only providing an SPF rating proportionate to the volume of sunscreen used, Ahmed said. A sunscreen at SPF 30 might only be SPF 15 depending on the amount of sunscreen used. 

Ahmed also addressed the need for consumers to protect against UVA rays as well as UVB by using sunscreens labeled as “Broad Spectrum.” 

But Ahmed recommended that his patients not use a spray-based sunscreen. 

“In general non-spray (sunscreen) is better,” said Ahmed.

The reason for the difference in effectiveness again is directly related to the way it is applied.

Ahmed said brand names don’t really matter, but that he recommends using a sunscreen like a lotion or a stick over spray-delivery system sunscreens.

Ahmed said there are natural sunscreen alternatives on the market, but none he has seen could be as effective at protecting against UVA/UVB rays as commercial sunscreen.

According to Ahmed there is a specific Fern that as been trademarked as an oral sunscreen as well as a liquid drink designed to block harmful rays, but the “technology isn’t there to substitute the efficacy of commercial grade sunscreen.

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