6 Expert-Approved Facts You Should Tell Your Clients About SPF

Woman smiling and holding two bottles of sunscreen against a blue background

Americans have a lot to learn about sunscreen. More than half of us—62%—think we’re doing A-OK when it comes to staying safe in the sun, yet 63% also reported getting tan. The problem? There’s no such thing as a safe tan. Every time you tan or burn, you’re damaging the DNA in your skin.

Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness month we turned to two suncare experts—Patricia Boland, VP of Research and Development at Colorescience, and the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF)—to clear up some of the most common misconceptions about sun safety. Keep reading to learn more about who needs sunscreen, how much we need, and how providers can talk to clients about sun protection.

Who needs sunscreen?

In short: Everyone. All the time.

“One misconception is that only light-skinned people get skin cancer,” SCF warned. “Anyone can get skin cancer regardless of race, ethnicity, or skin tone. Although skin cancer is rare in people with melanin-rich skin, when they do get it, it’s often diagnosed at a later stage.”

Sun protection is critical, even on overcast days or for brief periods outside.

“No matter your skin tone, you need sun protection, and you need to reapply it. Your skin is damaged by sun exposure over your lifetime, (i.e. the damage is cumulative), whether or not you burn and regardless of your skin tone,” said Patricia. “Going unprotected on an overcast day can lead to skin damage. Similarly, those quick outings on sunny days like walking to the mailbox, shuffling the kiddos to and from school, or even walking the dog can add up to hours of unprotected UV exposure.”

How much sunscreen do we need?

Patricia Boland, VP of Research & Development at Colorescience

Research shows that people rarely use as much sunscreen as directed.

To get the full broad-spectrum protection out of sunscreen, Patricia said we need about one ounce, (approximately a shot glass full), for the entire body. According to SCF, the face alone should get about a nickel-sized dollop.

Regardless of what the labels say, no sunscreen is truly waterproof. They all wear or wash off. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours—or immediately after swimming or sweating— to maintain protection.

Patricia shared a smart rule for planning sunscreen application: “A family of four should use at least one four-ounce bottle of sunscreen per person during a long day outdoors.”

While you’re packing sunscreen, don’t forget to check—and heed—the expiration date!

What’s the best sunscreen?

SCF says the best sunscreen is the one you are most likely to use, so long as it provides safe and effective protection, and is broad spectrum with SPF 15 or higher.

Before mixing and matching sunscreens, folks should understand that an SPF 30 applied over an SPF 20 does not equal an SPF 50.

“While I love the concept of layering SPF, it’s important for patients and consumers to understand how this works,” Patricia said. “When layering sunscreens, the amount of protection is equal to the highest SPF value applied, if we assume that a person is applying the correct amount. It’s also important if someone is mixing sunscreens that they are mixing similar formula types that are compatible with one another.”

Are there any major changes in sunscreen in 2023?

Two women smiling and posing togetherConsumers are becoming more concerned about the ingredients in their skincare products, including sunscreen, and increasingly turning to mineral sunscreens for sun protection. For years, it was easy to spot the folks sporting zinc at the beach—thanks to the tell-tale white residue—but the latest formulations accommodate all skin types, tones, and lifestyles.

“All-mineral, physical sunscreens, (those containing only Titanium Dioxide or Zinc Oxide as UV filters), have especially come a long way, which is wonderful since they are less likely to cause skin irritation in people who have sensitive skin,” Patricia said. ” These types of products were once associated with a white cast on skin, particularly deeper skin tones, but now we see them offered in a wide range of tints, finishes, formats and textures to accommodate all tones without the chalky appearance.”

Today’s sunscreens come in lotions, creams, gels, and sprays that go on more easily than past formulations. Plus, many include hydrating ingredients and antioxidants for protection beyond just UV rays.

While a topical sunscreen is always a good idea, SCF adds that there are also more shade structures and sun-protective clothing options than ever before, so there’s no excuse to skip sun protection.

How can providers promote healthy sun protection habits?

Adults should be doing monthly skin self-exams and seeing a dermatologist at least annually, but anyone who examines a client’s skin can play a role in identifying potential skin cancers and promoting sun safety. “Medical professionals and aestheticians are in a unique position to spot suspicious lesions on the skin, as they often see parts of your body you may not examine regularly,” SCF said.

In addition to calling attention to potential skin cancers, aesthetic providers can educate clients during treatments and even on their social media accounts.

“It’s important to make sure patients are informed about risk factors and steps they can take to protect themselves based on their lifestyle, skin type, medications and family history,” Patricia said. “Helping patients understand how to conduct their self-exams, including what to look for, can enable them to be more proactive with their skin health which can potentially lead to the early detection of skin cancer.”

How do we reframe thinking around sun exposure?

For decades, the beauty industry has promoted a suntan as a sign of vibrancy—using terms like “sun-kissed” and “healthy glow” to describe effects that are actually sun damage. Aesthetic pros have an opportunity to lead the course correction, emphasizing the aging effects of UV exposure, and recommending either sun protection products or fake tan alternatives.

“Regular daily use of sunscreen reduces your overall UV exposure, which not only helps to lower your risk of skin cancers like squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, but also helps prevent premature skin aging caused by the sun including wrinkles, sagging and hyperpigmentation (brown spots),” Patricia said.

As clients come in for treatments to slow the signs of aging, don’t forget to remind them that applying SPF daily is one of the best things they can do to fight premature aging.

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