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Ask a Dermatologist: Why are rashguards better than sunscreen alone?

Leah Dawson protects her skin in the sun wearing the Nazare Bodysuit and the Montara Rashguard.
Photo by Bryce Johnson. 

As board-certified doctor in Dermatology and Internal Medicine, Dr. Brandith Irwin sees the effects of sun damage on her patient’s skin on a daily basis. She got so many of the same questions from her patients over the years that she created a website, Skintour to offer expert, unbiased skincare information to consumers about skin care, products, lasers, injectibles and other devices for healthier skin and younger appearances.

Dr. Irwin's latest book, “The Surgery-Free Makeover: all you need to know for great skin and a younger face” is like a personal consultation for women on how to look their best with the least fuss and expense. In honor of May being Skin Cancer Awareness month, Dr. Irwin shared with us her expert advice on how to take care of your skin during water activities.

Why should teens and 20-somethings care about to protecting their skin from the sun? Is young skin more susceptible to skin damage that effects in the long term?

If you start in your teens and twenties to protect your skin, you will save yourself a ton of wrinkles, brown spots, and blotchy skin problems later. Sun exposure is cumulative meaning it just keeps adding up. You can’t totally undo any of it.

How does UPF sun protective clothing work?

The clothing itself has been tested to make sure no radiation from the sun – UVA and UVB – is getting through. It just forms a physical layer between your skin and the sun. [Click HERE for more information on UPF clothing!]

Why is sun-protective clothing more effective than sunscreen alone?

Sun protective clothing is more effective because you can’t sweat it off, swim it off, or forget to reapply. Even the best sunscreen, applied perfectly doesn’t block as much UVA and UVB as a great rashguard!! Also, it saves time and is less expensive in the long run.

How long is sunscreen effective on the skin?

That’s almost impossible to say without knowing the exact sunscreen, how much exactly was applied, how much sweating, etc. Recommendations are to reapply after swimming, sweating and generally every two hours.

Sunscreen is the most important skin care product you can use on your skin every day. The more damage you can prevent from sunlight, the better your skin will be for years to come. If you have pre-teen or teenage children, particularly if you live in a sunny climate, encourage them to start using sunscreen on a daily basis on their faces.

Sunscreens and sun protection are the single best way to prevent prematurely aged skin, sunburns, leathery-looking skin, age spots, skin cancers, and the deadly skin cancer, melanoma (in fact, melanoma is the biggest cause of cancer deaths among kids in their twenties).

How do you read the SPF on sunscreen labels?

Don’t be fooled. The SPF indicates only UVB protection, not UVA. You might, for instance, be wearing an SPF 60 and, regardless of your skin type, still be at risk for skin cancer, wrinkles, and burns from UVA if the sunscreen doesn’t contain a UVA blocker. Nor does the term “broad spectrum” on the bottle guarantee UVA protection, because even if the product contains only a minuscle amount of UVA blocker, it can still bear the label for “broad spectrum” coverage. Sunscreens that have 5 to 10 percent zinc or titanium or 3 percent Mexoryl are best.

The SPF tells you only how much longer you can be in the sun without burning (For instance, if you would normally burn in 30 minutes with no sunscreen, then an SPF 30 would allow you to be out 15 hours without burning). How many of us are out for 15 hours? So long as you use an SPF 15, what really matters is the quality of the sunscreen ingredients, not the SPF. The higher SPF sunscreens sometimes have better UVA blockers but not always.

Thank you Dr. Irwin! For more skincare advice and her product recommendations, visit her website,

Rhea Cortado May 08, 2016 1 tags (show)

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