Recently, a famous actress recommended that people start wearing sunscreen as a highlighter. This is wrong.. but why?
What is sunscreen?
Sunscreen has been available since the 1940s, and was started to be regulated by the FDA in 1978. Per FDA, “Any sunscreen sold in the United States is regulated as a drug because it makes a drug claim – to help prevent sunburn or to decrease the risks of skin cancer and early skin aging caused by the sun.” Sunscreen has to pass certain tests before they are sold in the U.S.
However, this is not necessarily true of other countries. Recently, KraveBeauty, a Korean company, had to recall a popular sunscreen called Beet the Sunscreen in 2021. They said, “At the end of last year, it was revealed that a number of manufacturers and independent testing labs have produced faulty results that do not match the product SPF claims.” Thus, to ensure that the product has what it claims, it is best to use sunscreens in the U.S. due to FDA’s oversight.
Sunscreen is only as good as how you use it
Beyond its SPF sun protective factor rating, good sunscreen practical use is important too. Remember to do the following:
- Limit time in sun from 10am to 2pm [when sun rays are the most strong]
- Wear clothing to protect skin [better to use UPF rated clothing; clothing designed to block UV rays]
- Use broad spectrum sunscreen, ideally with SFP 35 or higher]
- Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours [especially if sweating or if skin is wet from beach or pool]
- Stay in shade or create shade for yourself, ie. with umbrella or tent.
Places people forget to put sunscreen
Sunscreen can only protect if you put it onto the skin. Some places people forget to apply:
- Back of neck
- Tops of feet
- Along the hairline
- Areas of the head exposed by balding or thinning hair
Why is this important? Generally, skin cancer occurs in areas regularly exposed to ultraviolet (UV) rays. These same locations that people forget to put their sunscreen are also the same places patients tend to get their skin cancers. Sometimes it is hard to apply sunscreen to hairline, in this case, I sometimes recommend spray on sunscreen so that it’s easier to get to difficult to reach places ie. top of scalp.
Where are skin cancers commonly found?
There are many types of skin cancer, the 3 most common are basal cell skin cancers, squamous cell skin cancers, and melanoma. The are commonly found in different places depending on type of skin cancers. This list is not exhaustive and skin cancer can be found anywhere including areola (breast), genitals, buttocks, etc.
For basal cell skin cancers:
For squamous cell skin cancers:
- Back of hands
- In men, back and other places on the trunk (shoulders to hips).
- In women, arms and legs.
- In sun damaged skin, head and neck.
In summary, try not to forget to put on sunscreen even in the hard to reach places. Have a friend or even ask a stranger help you apply it. You never know… you can help someone else protect their skin too by sharing the knowledge!
I am a board certified dermatologist at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles. I am a comprehensive dermatologist caring for families. I love seeing children and adults. My youngest patient was 0 days old and my oldest was 110 years old. I have had psoriasis since the age of 8 and considered an expert in psoriasis and psoriasis treatments. I have lectured locally and nationally and published numerous papers on other topics such as skin manifestations of eczema, hidradenitis suppurativa, systemic lupus erythematous, granuloma annulare, microbiome, skin cancers, and more. My expertise includes knowledge in managing complex skin diseases. I am experienced with surgical treatment of skin cancers, as well as non-surgical methods to treat skin cancer and precancerous lesions. I run a full medical, cosmetic, and surgical dermatology practice. I am experienced with the use of complex dermatologic therapy, including biologic therapy, immunosuppressive medications, and phototherapy. I also treats fine lines and wrinkles non-surgically with combinations of botox, fillers, chemical peels, lasers, and radiofrequency. I perform minor surgeries such as excisions for cysts, lipomas, basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancers, and early stage melanoma. I am physician expert for Kopa for Psoriasis, part of Happify. I have been featured on podcasts and quoted in numerous online and print publications. I am honored to be named “Top Doctor” in Los Angeles magazine. In my free time, I volunteer for community events such as skin cancer screenings and at the local free clinics. I also teach internal medicine and dermatology residents at several academic centers. I try to do yoga every day and every year, I run a half-marathon at the Golden Gate Bridge.