The Prairie Doc: Here comes the sun; it's time to breakout the sunscreen

Dr. Jill Kruse
The Prairie Doc
Dr. Jill Kruse, The Prairie Doc

Summer is just around the corner and warm days outside in the sunshine will soon be here.

This is the perfect time to remember the importance of sunscreen. The number of sunscreens has increased over the years and the plethora of options can make it confusing when shopping for one that works best for you and your family.

There are two main categories of sunscreen: chemical and physical. Each type has its own list of pros and cons. Where you are going, how long you are going to be outside, and what you are doing may factor into which type is right for you.

Chemical sunscreens are probably more common to most consumers. They absorb UV rays and convert them into heat energy before they can damage the skin. These sunscreens are easy to find and relatively inexpensive in the form of lotion, gel sticks and spray. Main ingredients include avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone.

Chemical sunscreens must absorb into your skin to work properly. They work best when applied 20-30 minutes before you go outside in the sun. They spread on easily and last long. You want to apply generously, but in general, less of this product is needed to get good coverage when compared to physical sunscreens.

Due to absorption into the skin, chemical sunscreens are not recommended for infants under six months. This type of sunscreen can also run the risk of causing allergic reactions, especially those with sensitive skin or conditions such as eczema or atopic dermatitis.

Some ingredients in chemical sunscreens can cause damage to coral reefs and are banned in many places such as Hawaii, Key West, parts of Mexico and several Caribbean islands.

The other type of sunscreens available are physical sunscreens. These sit on top of the skin and provide a physical barrier to the UV rays, reflecting them away from the body. The main ingredients are titanium dioxide and zinc dioxide.

Physical sunscreens are usually sold in the form of a white, thick paste. Some are available in fine powders than can be brushed on like makeup. Paste is more difficult to rub onto the skin compared to lotion and must be reapplied more frequently as it can be easily rubbed off especially when the skin is sweating. It may leave a film, and if you miss a spot, that area is not protected.

Whichever type of sunscreen you use, look for one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Remember to reapply often, even on cloudy days and limit exposure to the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the UV rays are at their peak.

Enjoy the sun and summer but do so safely. Your skin will thank you.

Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices as a hospitalist in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at and on Facebook.