Sunscreen Tips: Expert Shares Insights on Patient Education image

By Naz Saedi, MD

A recent survey from the American Academy of Dermatology shows that 76 percent of people think that sunscreen is important but only about 40 percent wear sunscreen. These numbers indicate a significant disconnect; while people understand the concept and the importance of sunscreen, they still find it hard to make it a regular habit and to incorporate it into everyday use.

Patient Education is Essential

Dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons need to educate patients about the importance of sunscreen in order to get patients to be compliant and to wear sunscreen every day. I tell my patients that even spending five minutes outside walking from your car to a store (which might be the only outing people have these days), it is really important to protect your skin. That brief time is enough sun exposure to warrant sunscreen. Also, increased sun exposure will increase your risk of skin cancer as well as aging. I find that when you tell patients that aging is also a factor, they tend to be more compliant with sunscreen.

Many patients complain that they don't like the consistency of sunscreen. They say it feels sticky or chalky, or they say it makes them break out. I recommend patients try a bit of trial and error. Try a few different sunscreens to see what feels good on their skin. If they find a sunscreen they like, hopefully they'll be more likely to be compliant with wearing it every day.

There are a lot of different formulations of sunscreens on the market now, as well as makeups and foundations that have sunscreen in them. I tend to recommend that patients wear a true sunscreen formulation and not rely on makeups that have added sunscreens ingredients. The makeup products are not FDA regulated like sunscreens.

Many sunscreens have tinted formulations, which can provide some coverage for patients who desire it. EltaMD, Colorescience, and Alastin are among the brands that I often discuss as options with tint. 

Clarify the Science on Safety

Last year, a study was published from the FDA reporting that chemical sunscreen ingredients were absorbed through the skin and detected in blood samples. However, we don't know what to do with that information or whether it is clinically relevant. Although we are unsure of any potential negative impact on health, the finding and media coverage has made many people hesitant to wear sunscreen.

For people who are worried about the impacts of chemical sunscreens, I recommend using sunscreens that are formulated with physical blockers—titanium dioxide or zinc oxide—because there are no safety concerns with those ingredients.