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SPF is only the start when recommending sunscreens



CHICAGO – Sunscreen recommendations are most effective when a multitude of factors are considered, Susan C. Taylor, MD, said during a presentation on personal photoprotection at the inaugural Pigmentary Disorders Exchange Symposium.

Among the first factors physicians should consider before recommending sunscreen are a patient’s Fitzpatrick skin type, risks for burning or tanning, underlying skin disorders, and medications the patient is taking, Dr. Taylor, professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said at the meeting, provided by MedscapeLIVE! If patients are on hypertensives, for example, medications can make them more photosensitive.

Susan C. Taylor, MD, professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia MedscapeLIVE!

Dr. Susan C. Taylor

Consider skin type

Dr. Taylor said she was dismayed by the results of a recent study, which found that 43% of dermatologists who responded to a survey reported that they never, rarely, or only sometimes took a patient’s skin type into account when making sunscreen recommendations. The article is referenced in a 2022 expert panel consensus paper she coauthored on photoprotection “for skin of all color.” But she pointed out that considering skin type alone is inadequate.

Questions for patients in joint decision-making should include lifestyle and work choices such as whether they work inside or outside, and how much sun exposure they get in a typical day. Heat and humidity levels should also be considered as should a patient’s susceptibility to dyspigmentation. “That could be overall darkening of the skin, mottled hyperpigmentation, actinic dyspigmentation, and, of course, propensity for skin cancer,” she said.

Use differs by race

Dr. Taylor, who is also vice chair for diversity, equity and inclusion in the department of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that sunscreen use differs considerably by race.

In study of 8,952 adults in the United States who reported that they were sun sensitive found that a subset of adults with skin of color were significantly less likely to use sunscreen when compared with non-Hispanic White adults: Non-Hispanic Black (adjusted odds ratio, 0.43); non-Hispanic Asian (aOR. 0.54); and Hispanic (aOR, 0.70) adults.

In the study, non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic adults were significantly less likely to use sunscreens with an SPF greater than 15. In addition, non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic Asian, and Hispanic adults were significantly more likely than non-Hispanic Whites to wear long sleeves when outside. Such differences are important to keep in mind when advising patients about sunscreens, she said.

Protection for lighter-colored skin

Dr. Taylor said that, for patients with lighter skin tones, “we really want to protect against ultraviolet B as well as ultraviolet A, particularly ultraviolet A2. Ultraviolet radiation is going to cause DNA damage.” Patients with Fitzpatrick skin types I, II, or III are most susceptible to the effects of UVB with sunburn inflammation, which will cause erythema and tanning, and immunosuppression.

“For those who are I, II, and III, we do want to recommend a broad-spectrum, photostable sunscreen with a critical wavelength of 370 nanometers, which is going to protect from both UVB and UVA2,” she said.

Sunscreen recommendations are meant to be paired with advice to avoid midday sun from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., wearing protective clothing and accessories, and seeking shade, she noted.

Dr. Taylor said, for those patients with lighter skin who are more susceptible to photodamage and premature aging, physicians should recommend sunscreens that contain DNA repair enzymes such as photolyases and sunscreens that contain antioxidants that can prevent or reverse DNA damage. “The exogenous form of these lyases have been manufactured and added to sunscreens,” Dr. Taylor said. “They’re readily available in the United States. That is something to consider for patients with significant photodamage.”

Retinoids can also help alleviate or reverse photodamage, she added.


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