When you go to the pool the first thing you think about is applying sunscreen. We are very happy that you are protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun that can cause skin cancer, but how do you decide which sunscreen to use? Do you think all sunscreens are the same and last the entire day? Finally, if you’re so concerned about the sun at the pool than do you give your exposed legs and feet the same kind of attention when you’re outside running chores while wearing shorts and sandals?

            Our goal at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists is to help you answer all of the questions above and provide some insight on the basics of sun protection.

What Are We Protecting Against?

            Before explaining the basics of sun protection it is important to understand what we are protecting against. Our goal is to protect against skin damaging radiation, known as Ultraviolet Light (UV light). The sun emits different types of UV light rays, which are able to penetrate and damage the cells of the skin. The two types that we want to pay specific attention to are UVA rays and UVB rays.


  • UVA rays are the most powerful and prevalent type of sunlight. Due to their strong penetrating ability these rays are typically responsible for damaging the deeper cell layers of your skin causing irreversible damage in the form of Wrinkles, Aging Spots, and Leather-like skin.


  • UVB rays are weaker (don’t penetrate as deep) and less common because our atmosphere absorbs the majority of them before they reach the earths surface. However, these rays are VERY dangerous and are usually responsible for Severe Sun Burns and Skin Cancer.


What is the Difference Between Sunscreen and Sunblock?

            Many people use these terms interchangeably, but don’t be fooled, these two terms have very different meanings. Sun protection has been categorized as either Chemical Lotions (Sunscreen) or Physical Lotions (Sunblock).

  • Chemical Lotions or Sunscreens have certain ingredients that work by absorbing and filtering out UVB rays. There are some sunscreens that also provide UVA protection, but make sure to read the label because this is not a requirement by the FDA when the term “Sunscreen” is used. Sunscreens usually feel thin and light after application and become clear as they dry.
  • Physical Lotions or Sunblocks work just like they sound. They contain different types of large minerals along with specific ingredients that create a thick, white coat after application. Due to its thickness, this type of lotion creates a physical barrier against both UVA and UVB rays, which is especially good for people with high sensitivities to UV rays or for longer periods of exposure to the sun.

            Now we want to talk about the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) scale. SPF is the rating system for the duration and magnitude of UVB protection you would have with the product in comparison to bare skin, which is based on a generalized “ideal condition” scale. This number is extremely ambiguous because every person has hundreds of different factors that play a role into their sensitivity to sun light. Generally speaking, studies have shown that an SPF of 30 or higher will give you sufficient protection (up to 97%) from skin damaging rays. Anything lower and the percent begins to fall and any SPF higher than 45 tends to be negligible in regards to “more” protection.

Other Factors to Consider:

  • Skin Color – The darker the skin you have to more protected you are from the sun and lighter skin presents a much higher risk level, so try to use a higher SPF sunscreen or Sunblock.
  • Broad Spectrum Sunscreen – If you prefer to use Sunscreen instead of Sunblock than try to go with a Sunscreen that has received a Broad Spectrum Designation on the bottle. This designation is given to sunscreens, which have passed an FDA regulated test for protecting against both UVA and UVB rays.
  • Company Claims – Read the claims made by the company on the bottle because the FDA only permits companies to claim increased protection to Sunburns, Skin Cancer and Skin Aging if it is a Broad Spectrum Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher. All other sunscreen can only claim to prevent Sunburns.
  • Stay Dry and Re-Apply – Whenever you are sweating or going in and out of the pool, you are prone to the sunscreen washing away. Make sure to re-apply sunscreen whenever you are in contact with water and be sure to re-apply sunscreen every 1-2 hours regardless of whether you are dry or not.
  • Apply Beforehand – Sunscreen doesn’t work immediately, so put it on at least 30 minutes before exposure.
  • Regular Lotion – Sunscreens can be in the form of liquids, oils, lotions, or sprays. These may all be effective, however regular lotion form will give you the best results in terms of overall performance. Children usually have sensitive skin, so try to use lotions that are fragrance free in order to prevent any adverse reactions to the lotion.

            Overall, it’s obvious that Melanoma is the biggest concern in regards to skin cancer from improper protection from the sun. Melanoma is extremely dangerous because it can easily go undetected or misdiagnosed unless your physician does a thorough body examination. It is for this reason that Melanoma of the foot or ankle has an overall survival rate of 52%, which is drastically worse than the 85% survival rate of melanomas on other parts of the body. This is why we highly advocate proper sun protection and hope that if you have any concerns, you seek your podiatrist or dermatologist before the condition worsens.

            So Take in That Summer Sun and Screen out Those Harmful Rays!!!!


Dr. Shine John, DPM, FACFAS
Podiatric Physician, Surgeon, Specialist at Austin Foot and Ankle Specialists
Great information. I don't have kids but my niece and 2 nephews are staying with me for the rest of the summer so I have been doing research on things like sunscreen for kids and how often it needs to be applied. I had no idea sunscreen needed to be applied 30 minutes before going out in the sun. I thought it worked immediately. Thanks so much for sharing, this was very helpful.
by lauren August 7, 2013 at 09:14 AM
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