A Guide to Sun Protection

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In this guide to sun protection, we’ll discuss the most effective ways for your patients to protect their skin from the sun. We’ll also include product recommendations, tanning alternatives, and tips for long-term skin health that you can pass on to your patients.

Avoiding UV rays

Medical professionals diagnose over 9,500 patients with skin cancer daily in the US. The foremost cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation, so protecting skin from harmful solar rays using shade, clothing, or sunscreen is the best way to prevent skin cancer.

Three forms of UV radiation are classified by wavelength measured in nanometers (nm).

  • Long UVA rays are 315-399 nm and are not absorbed by the ozone layer.
  • Medium UVB rays are 280-314 nm and are mostly absorbed by the ozone layer.
  • Short UVC rays are 100-279 nm and are entirely absorbed by the atmosphere.

All UV rays are invisible to humans. UVA and UVB are both proven to cause skin cancer. Long UVA rays are more dangerous because, even though they’re weaker than UVB, they penetrate deeper into the skin, causing more lasting damage.

Medium-length UVB rays cannot penetrate below the first skin layers. UVB is typically responsible for effects like sunburn, skin aging, and wrinkles. It’s critical to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB radiation.

Advising your patients to stay out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm is a good practice because it’s during those hours that harmful UV radiation is most potent. If they must be out, there are two different ways to protect their skin:

  1. Use sunscreen on any exposed skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using sunscreen with 15 sun protection factor (SPF) at a minimum. For extended periods outdoors, SPF 30 is recommended. Regardless, reapply sunscreen every two hours for continued protection.
  2. Cover the skin physically with clothing, hats, and sunglasses. For maximum coverage that doesn’t wear off, consider clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. These are made of special fabrics that provide different levels of protection through tight weaves in clothing. Since clothing leaves some exposed skin, use sunscreen in combination for the best protection.

Sunscreen 101

What are the different types of sunscreen?

Chemical and physical are the two variations of sunscreen that provide face and body protection in different ways.

Chemical sunscreens

Chemical-based sunscreens absorb into the skin. This product then absorbs UV rays, converts the rays into heat, and releases them from the body before they can inflict damage. Avobenzone, octinoxate, and oxybenzone are active ingredients found in these products.  

Apply these products 20 minutes before sun exposure to ensure adequate protection. In addition, they are very water-resistant for those who plan to swim or sweat. It’s important to note that there is some controversy regarding chemical sunscreens, as some contain ingredients that can penetrate the skin and potentially cause hormonal disruption.

Physical sunscreens

Physical sunscreens sit on the skin's surface and reflect the sun’s rays. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the main blocking agents that reflect and scatter UV radiation away from the skin. The FDA has designated these two ingredients as GRASE (generally recognized as safe and effective).

These products are effective as soon as they’re applied and tend to be a better option for those with sensitive skin. Depending on the brand, physical sunscreens tend to be thicker in consistency and sometimes can leave a white cast on the skin.

What are the different forms of sunscreen available?

There are many different methods for the application of sunscreen:

  • Gels: provide increased coverage when working or playing sports outdoors
  • Creams and lotions: give added moisture to patients with dry skin
  • Sticks: best utilized on the face
  • Sprays: work better than lotions or creams in areas with body hair

Regardless of which application method your patients use, protection begins to wane after two hours. Protection time is shorter if there is excessive sweating or swimming, but using water-resistant sunscreen can help.

It’s important to understand that no sunscreen blocks 100% of the sun’s rays, so some tanning will occur even with the highest SPF products.

What is SPF?

The sun protection factor (SPF) of sunscreens measures the amount of time you will remain protected from the sun before burning. For example, by wearing SPF 30 sunscreen, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing any sunscreen. The FDA recommends using broad-spectrum sunscreens with a minimum SPF of 15, stating that anything less is ineffective. A minimum of SPF 30 is recommended for extended periods outdoors.

While products with SPF 100 or even higher are available for purchase, the benefits are negligible compared to an SPF 30. Sunscreen with a rating of SPF 100 delivers 99% protection from UVB rays, in comparison to SPF 30 providing similar protection at 97%. Former American Academy of Dermatology President, Dr. David M. Pariser, mentions with SPF levels that “as you get higher and higher, it’s not really a practical difference [in protection].”

Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect against UVA and UVB even on cloudy days is critical for the health and beauty of patients’ skin because these harmful rays cause more than skin cancer. They are also responsible for advancing photoaging and unwanted wrinkles and sagging.  

Sunscreen for face and body

Sunscreen for the face is different from sunscreen for the body. The two body areas have different needs because the skin is different.

Facial sunscreen

Facial skin is usually more sensitive than body skin and often has a higher concentration of oils. So facial sunscreens avoid fragrances as the chemicals might cause skin irritation. They also use less oil to prevent acne.

If your patient chooses a spray, you can advise them to spray their hands and then rub the sunscreen onto their face to avoid inhaling unwanted propellant chemicals.

Body sunscreen

Body sunscreens are usually thick and oily and often have fragrances. They cover large areas of skin quickly and protect from sunburn and peeling.

While your patients can use facial sunscreen on their bodies, it’s not generally recommended because facial sunscreens are packaged in smaller quantities and can have makeup components to smooth out fine wrinkles and give a uniform skin tone.

Product recommendations

With the overwhelming amount of options on the market, it can be a challenge to find the right product. Portrait provider Laurie Peterson, RN, CANS, advises to “look for quality, but most importantly, something you like and will wear daily. Some people don’t wear sunscreen simply because they haven’t found the right one, but there are products for everyone. Sunscreens don’t have to look white or feel heavy - there are lighter, more discreet products that still provide great protection.”

It’s crucial to find a product that feels good so that your patients are motivated to continue using it. Brittney Güney, RN and Portrait provider, advises to “always try a sample! Make sure your skin does not have an adverse reaction and that there is a universal color suitable for your skin tone.” Taking the time to sample a few different options is worth it to find a product you love to help protect your skin in the future.

In addition to the transparent sunscreens, tinted products are available for any skin tone. Along with SPF protection, tinted moisturizers create a slight skin tint using makeup pigments like a blemish balm (BB) cream or a foundation. Many opt to use tinted products to simplify their skincare routine, combining make-up and sunscreen into a single product to achieve a tanned look.

We asked our network of providers to share their top sunscreen picks with us so that you can bring them to your patients!

Daily SPF for the face

Even if your patients wear hats, they still need to wear facial sunscreen daily to prevent harmful UV radiation from damaging sensitive facial skin.

Clear Facial Sunscreens

  • ALASTIN Skincare SilkSHIELD: Powerful yet gentle, transparent sunscreen that provides anti-aging benefits with an exclusive peptide blend.
  • Colorescience Sunforgettable: A lightweight formula that blends in sheer and offers comprehensive defense against UVA/UVB, Blue Light, Pollution, and Infrared radiation.
  • Ageless SPF by Melissa Gorden: Ultra-moisturizing, broad-spectrum SPF 50 sunscreen with hyaluronic acid to address fine lines and wrinkles while helping support a healthy skin barrier.
  • Cal Derma by Crystal Coatney, PA-C: Clear, medical-grade sunscreen with SPF 45. Contains niacinamide, which is a B vitamin that helps soothe any skin redness and physical block zinc oxide (12%) for optimal protection.

Tinted Facial Sunscreens

  • Revision Skincare Intellishade TruPhysical: Helps to correct, protect, conceal, brighten and hydrate the skin, while the 100% all-mineral technology provides broad-spectrum UVA and UVB SPF 45 protection.
  • ALASTIN Skincare Hydratint: Evens and brightens skin with a glowing tint for most skin tones while providing SPF 36 protection from UVA and UVB rays.
  • Cal Derma by Crystal Coatney, PA-C: Tinted sunscreen with SPF 44, meant to match any skin tone and formulated with hyaluronic acid for a dewy look. Contains physical blocks zinc oxide (10%) and titanium dioxide (5.5%) for optimal protection.

SPF for the body

People generally need sunscreen for the body only when they plan to be out in the sun exposing skin that they usually cover with clothing. Sunscreens for the body tend to be less expensive than facial products because they require fewer anti-aging and makeup ingredients.

  • Drunk Elephant™ Umbra Sheer™: Broad-spectrum, sheer sunscreen with antioxidants, ideal for daily use and suitable for all skin types.
  • EltaMD UV Shield: Lightweight formula that goes on clear and protects against harmful UVA and UVB rays to keep skin healthy and radiant.
  • Supergoop! 100% Mineral Sunscreen: Zinc formula that provides physical UV protection. Sprays on white and quickly dries to a sheer finish on all skin tones.


If you want to obtain tan, glowing skin without harmful UV exposure, self-tanning products may be worth considering. Self-tanning products give a short-term tan without sun exposure by stimulating melatonin production. They have come a long way from the days when they turned skin a bright orange hue. Today’s self-tanners come in lotions, mists, serums, oils, and drops. Many also have SPF protection built-in so that people can get their tan on the go with minimal UV exposure

Again, we asked our network of providers to share their favorites with us, so everyone can achieve a tan glow without harming their skin.

  • FakeBake: Offered in a variety of shades based on skin tone and desired look. Learn how to choose the perfect shade here. Laurie Peterson, RN, CANS, mentions this brand as a personal favorite!
  • Loving Tan: Products offered for both the face and body. Juli Bromley, RN, BSN, recommends this as “a great self-tanner that is streakless and easy to apply!”

It’s important to note that not all of these products protect from the sun with their tanned results. Remember to use additional SPF if it’s not in the product itself.

Details to consider

Avoid sunscreen brands with benzene

Many consumers became concerned about sunscreen and after-sun products after a large product recall in the summer of 2021. Sunscreens were recalled for containing benzene, a chemical compound that naturally occurs in gasoline and is a known carcinogen. Tests from online pharmacy and lab, Valisure, discovered the chemical in 78 products from brands including Neutrogena, Banana Boat, and Sun Bum. Manufacturers do not use benzene sunscreens, so Valisure suspects the contamination occurred during the manufacturing process.

As mentioned previously, oxybenzone and octinoxate are often used in chemical sunscreens. While they have been determined safe for use in sunscreens, environmentalists have flagged them as harmful due to their toxic effects on marine ecosystems.

To avoid these chemicals altogether, consider using physical sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, two of the safest and most effective sunscreens available today.


Sun protection is essential for the skin health of each and every patient. As a medical aesthetic provider, this knowledge gives you an additional layer of expertise to offer to your clientele. When the skin is at its healthiest, it will also be in the best shape to receive any additional treatments, yielding the most effective results possible. In combination with regular treatments, proper skin health will leave patients with the youthful skin they desire.

To learn more about how you can incorporate sun protection into your practice, speak to a Portrait specialist today.

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