Sunblock vs. Sunscreen: Best Ways to Prevent Skin Cancer

by Alan Haskvitz

Americans spend well over $500 million each year on sunscreen products that may not be the proper type or be used properly. Sadly, the result is that there are about 69,000 new cases of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, every year and a reported 8,650 deaths. Especially at risk are those under 30 where melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in this age bracket.

The causes of the continued rise in skin cancer cases is especially worrisome since it can be avoided with some commonsense strategies. For example, knowing what sunscreen and sunblock do and the need for it to be applied and reapplied even on overcast days as well as wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and wide brimmed hats. A tee shirt only provides the equivalent of a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 5 rating and if it is wet even less. Higher SPF numbers indicate more protection.

The main differences between sunscreen and sunblock is that the former acts as a filter that allows a limited range of ultraviolet (UV) light to be absorbed into the skin depending on the SPF number, while the latter reflects UVA and UVB rays and, as its name implies, blocks them from the skin. Sunblocks are frequently thick, opaque, and usually white in color. It is crucial to note that many lotions contain both a sunblock and a sunscreen so read the label carefully. It is also very important to check the expiration date of the lotion. Regardless of what protection you select it is essential that it is used on a regular basis and this is equally significant for young children. Since ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin they can alter the structure of the skin cells and cause malignancy. There are three types of UV rays; A, B, and C. UVA is said to cause connective tissue damage and increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. UVB rays are normally absorbed into the ozone layer, and the very harmful UVC rays are absorbed by the stratospheric ozone layer.

Always check with your doctor before for a recommendation as to the type of sunblock or sunscreen that you and your family need. A trip to the dermatologist is recommended to check any black, irregular mole for cancer and to get advise as to the latest sunblock and sunscreen ratings.

Frequently, the media offers as UV Index rating that was developed by the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency as a way to warn individuals as to the severity of ultraviolet rays on a daily basis with 0 being the least harmful and a10 rating carrying the most danger. However, you need to know your skin type and there are six of them. A type 1 always burns and is very sensitive to the sun. Type 2 burns easily with a minimum tan. Type 3 burns moderately and tans gradually. Type 4 burns minimally, but tans to a moderate brown color. Type 5 rarely burns, and tans darkly. Type 6 doesn’t burn, is deeply pigmented, and is the least sensitive to UV rays.

Two other areas that are sensitive to the sun and deserve attention are the lips and the eyes where it is imperative that sunglasses that reflect all UV rays be worn as they may cause cataracts.

Consumer Search reports that a good sunblock for children is Neutrogena Sunblock Lotion Sensitive Skin SPF 30. For products with both a sunblock and sunscreen they recommend Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sunblock Lotion SPF 45, Banana Boat Sport Ultra Sweatproof UVA & UVB Sunblock Lotion SPF 30, and Bull Frog SuperBlock Sunblock Lotion with SPF 45. Highly rated sunscreens for those with sensitive skin and babies are Blue Lizard Sensitive and Blue Lizard Baby.

Sunscreen reviews indicate Neutrogena Ultra Sheer Dry-Touch Sunblock I is good, especially with the SPF 55 formula. No-Ad Sunblock offers similar security.

Good information links

What do UV ratings mean?

Are you at risk of melanoma?

Free booklet on skin cancer and what you need to know