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What Is Your SPF Telling You?

Are you using the right sunscreen? Most people buy what seems to be the “right” SPF on a bottle of sunscreen and then use it all summer long without realizing they might need something else.

Different Types of Sunscreens
Which of the many sunscreens on the market is right for you? That depends on the type of sun exposure you’re expecting. If you’re only going to be outside for a few minutes – for example, just the time it takes to go from your car to a building – moisturizers and after-shave lotions with a bit of SPF (5-10 range) may be enough to protect your skin.

If you will be outdoors for 20 minutes or more, then you should consider a full spectrum sunscreen that protects against the UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays in sunlight. It should ideally be water resistant to minimize dilution from sweating, and have a much higher SPF compared to moisturizers or lotions – 30 plus is a good bet. (Remember to reapply it every two hours, as the sunscreen will either be absorbed into the skin or come off from sweating.)

Common Sunscreen Misconceptions
There are some myths about sunscreens:

  • “The right amount for the best protection, no matter the SPF, is 1 ounce or a full shot glass.” Most people don’t put on enough sunscreen. More is better!
  • “You don’t need sunscreen if it’s cloudy” – wrong, UV rays go right through the cloud cover, you still need to wear sunscreen!
  • “SPF 15 is enough protection for the average person” – so long as the higher SPFs don’t irritate your skin, higher numbers like 30 to 50 are advisable: while you might not be planning to get 30 to 50 times the “normal” exposure, higher protection numbers dwindle with time, absorption, sweating, and water exposure. If you put on 50 and it drops by a factor of 10, you’ve still got a 5 protection factor; going from 15 down by the same factor and you’ve got about a 1 between you and that blazing sun.
  • Peter L Kim, MD
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    Peter L Kim, MD

    Dr. Kim,  is the Medical Director of Family Care Centers, Former Chair of the Department of Family Medicine at Hoag Hospital, and a recipient of the Physicians of Excellence award from the Orange County Medical Association. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine, and has been practicing in our community for over 20 years. He is an excellent, caring, and well­qualified physician who is dedicated to providing you with superior health care. A native of Los Angeles, he graduated from UCLA and received his medical training at the LAC­USC Medical Center. After completing his residency in Family Medicine, he accepted a sports medicine fellowship at San Jose Medical Center, an affiliate of Stanford University. He enjoys working with patients and families who are training or want to get back into an active lifestyle.

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    Peter L Kim, MD
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