I love a good beach vacation just as much as the next person, but I admit I am always tormented by my concerns about sun damage. I hope I’m doing an okay job of protecting my family’s skin from the effects of the sun and try so hard to be mindful of applying SPF despite the annoying process of getting everyone to sit still while I rub in gobs of the stuff all over the kids’ bodies (no spray for us!).
I reached out to my dermatologist’s office to see if they would answer some of my most burning (no pun intended!) questions about SPF and travel and was so pleased when they agreed to the interview below. Hope it’s helpful to you as it was to me! Thank you to Gramercy Park Dermatology (http://www.gramercyparkdermatology.com/) for taking the time to answer these questions.
ME: Do you like a specific brand of SPF for the face? For the body?
DR: I like the Neutrogena products, particularly Ultra Sheer Dry Touch, La Roche Posay Anthelios and Elta MD – all for the face and body.
ME: Would you use different SPF if you are going swimming v. if you are staying dry? Or is it just a matter of reapplying after a swim?
DR: I have all of the above SPF products and use different ones for different applications. If I am swimming, I’ll wear a higher Helioplex Neutrogena and reapply every two hours. If I am staying dry, but am outside, I still reapply to the body but to my face I like ColorScience SPF powders especially if I have makeup on.
ME: Do I need to apply SPF first thing in the morning or is it okay to apply closer to 10am and allow the skin to get a bit of Vitamin D early in the day?
DR: I put SPF on first thing in the morning. We know that approximately 15 minutes of transient sun exposure, which you likely get from walking around or driving in the car, is sufficient and still penetrating despite your SPF product. I also have had my vitamin D level measured and do supplement as directed by my own physician.
ME: Do I need to apply SPF under a UV Protected rash guard or UPV clothing?
DR: As long as you do not plan on removing the clothing, then it should be sufficient. Remember these clothing pieces are rated based on the tightness of their weave. So there is a difference in UPV clothing.
ME: If we are traveling to a non-beach destination, i.e., a hiking or biking trip, do we need to apply SPF under our clothing as well as exposed areas, or is it safe to assume our clothing will provide sufficient protection under those circumstances?
DR: Again, it depends on the clothing you are wearing and the weave. If it is a cover-up with seemingly open holes then you will need to apply. Just as a point of reference, a white t-shirt is an SPF of 4! When hiking, consider the altitude that you are out – the higher the altitude, the more SPF you require.
ME: We are taking a road trip and it is a beautiful, sunny day? Do we need SPF in the car?
DR: Yes!! UVA comes through glass even in tinted car windows (where the films are going there to block UVB).
ME: We feel like we have been diligently applying SPF but we notice new freckles appearing. Does this mean we are not being careful enough or that we are using the wrong SPF? Or is this to be expected on certain skin types?
DR: It may mean all of the above. I recommend more liberal application of at least an SPF 30. Most of us don’t apply the right amount. The studies to characterize SPF are based on the thickness of the product in a square 1 centimeter area. In real practice, we all skimp on the amount we apply partially because it is easier to blend in less. There are certain skin types that are prone to developing freckles or sun spots – but good UV protection is the mainstay of youthful skin.
ME: What if my spouse has olive skin and I have fair skin – should we apply our SPF differently in quantity or frequency? Do we need tu use different brands based on our different skin types and protection needs?
DR: The person with olive skin is less likely to show signs of sun injury with burning as the person with fair skin may. The person with olive skin will tend to tan and maybe develop some pinkness. The person with fair skin will require less UV exposure before they burn or blister, both signs of injury to the skin. The brand does not need to be different but the person with fair skin can’t afford not to be vigilant with their liberal and regular applications. Both skin types will age with UV exposure – it will just show more in the person with fair skin.
ME: I like to go out for a walk on the beach early in the morning when on vacation. Do I need to apply SPF if I’m walking at 7:30am?
ME: Can my kids use the same SPF as I use?
DR: The FDA indication is for babies 6 months and older. There are gentler
formulations for babies and kids. One particular product line is by Neutrogena. These lines tend to have more physical blockers than chemical blockers – mostly because kids don’t mind looking opaque. We also recommend an SPF 30 for babies and kids.
ME: Any chemicals to specifically avoid or look for in SPF?
DR: Look for a broad spectrum UVA and UVB product. Buy a small size and make sure you like it.
ME: We are going to the rainforest where it is warm but very shady. Do we need SPF?
DR: Make it part of your every day routine and before you know it, it’ll be the same as brushing your teeth!