Your essential summer product - SUNSCREEN!

Aug 11, 2020

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

My first year out of pharmacy school, I went to a conference. There was a hospitality room. I went in with a few colleagues. I was told I was a pharmacist now, and I should try some Scotch. So, I did. And I made a face. Apparently, I made enough of a face that everyone in the room laughed and laughed. They guffawed that what I drank was good Scotch. Imagine the face I would make if I drank bad Scotch. I was advised that my Scotch appreciation would improve after I was forty. By then enough of my taste buds would have died that I would enjoy Scotch. This Scotch tasting episode popped into my mind the last weekend I worked. My co-workers and I were performing an act I generally don't recommend while working in a pharmacy.

Whatever acts you perform outside this summer, put on sunscreen! Summer isn't over yet, and neither is the need for sunscreen. There have also been some interesting questions about sunscreen and coral that have come up in the pharmacy.

In the U.S., the state of Hawaii has decided to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate starting in 2021. Oxybenzone and octinoxate are common ingredients in many chemical sunscreens. In Hawaii, they are concerned that these ingredients are linked to damaging or bleaching coral and altering sex hormones of ocean wildlife. But this is controversial. Not all the experts agree oxybenzone and octinoxate harm sea life.

I might be stating the obvious, but aside from Shark Week on TV, there isn't any coral or ocean life in Dauphin. There has been some freshwater experts who think oxybenzone might affect the hormones in fresh water fish, but again it seems to still be up for debate. More importantly, Health Canada says oxybenzone and octinoxate are safe for people to use. Also remember that daily sunscreen use reduces the risk of skin cancer.

There are alternatives to chemical sunscreens. They are called physical sunscreens. They usually have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide in them. Physical sunscreens haven't been linked to coral bleaching or changing the sex hormones of sea life. However, some people have expressed concerns about nanoparticles. Nanoparticles just mean the zinc oxide or titanium dioxide particles are really, really small. This makes the physical sunscreen easier to apply. However, some people are concerned that the nanoparticles are so small that they get absorbed through the skin and get into the rest of the body. However, the available evidence says that doesn't happen. The nanoparticles in sunscreen just stay on the skin.

The important part is use sunscreen. Sunscreens should be applied liberally 15 minutes before sun exposure. That gives the sunscreen ingredients time to bond to the skin. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every 2 hours while you are in the sun. Sunscreen should be applied sooner if you are swimming or sweating. Use a sunscreen labelled "broad spectrum" to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sun Protection Factor or SPF works like this: SPF 15 blocks about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 about 97%, and SPF 50 about 98%. Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

Sunscreen shouldn't be your only defense used to prevent skin cancer. Here are some practical suggestions.

  • Avoid the sun when it is most intense. This is generally between the hours of 11 am and 4 pm.
  • Seek the shade when you are outside for a long period of time
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim and long-sleeved shirt.

My co-workers were sniffing a stock bottle. They liked the aroma of the Vitamin C chewables and wanted to try one. Generally, it is not a good idea for people who work in a pharmacy to taste all the products. When a customer asks me what a medicine tastes like, I can only tell them what it says on the description. No, I don't generally taste all the drugs. But for the Vitamin C chews, I bent to peer pressure. One co-worker tried it and made a face. Another tried it and made a face. Then I tried it. The Vitamin C chew had distant vaguely orange undertones, with hints of chalk and a slightly gritty mouth feel. The oral experience brought me back to the Vitamin C chews my mom used to make me take as a child. Thus, I'd say these Vitamin C chews finished with a pleasant overtone of nostalgia. Well into my forties now, my taste buds have only died enough for me to appreciate the mildest of Scotch's, no peat flavor for me please. But apparently, I've lost enough taste buds to appreciate the terroir of Vitamin C chewables without making a face.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.


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