The sun is almost here. What will you recommend?

OTCs Today

Did you know that the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated the Friday before Memorial Day as “Don’t Fry Day”? This group is encouraging sun safety awareness and stressing the importance of sunscreen—and pharmacists should, too.

Spring is just around the corner. People in areas that have endured clouds, freezing temperatures, and snow will be more than ready to get out in the sun. As the most accessible health professionals, we need to be prepared to answer questions and make recommendations about sunscreen.

In this month’s column, let’s review some important information to consider as we counsel our patients on sun safety and possible additional benefits when using sunscreen.

SPF number

SPF, or Sun Protection Factor, is a measure of the protection a sunscreen offers from ultraviolet type B (UVB) rays; there is currently no standard for measuring type A protection. SPF is calculated based on the time it takes for skin to burn with sunscreen compared with the time it takes to burn without sunscreen. For example, by using SPF 10, a person who usually stays in the sun for 10 minutes before starting to burn can prolong that time to approximately 100 minutes. Many dermatologists recommend using a product with SPF 30 or higher.

Sunscreen counseling points

  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin at least 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure if expecting to spend more than 20 minutes in the sun.
  • Reapply every 2 hours at a minimum, even on cloudy days.
  • Reapply after heavy sweating, swimming, and toweling off. Reapplying doesn’t extend the length of time a person is protected from sunburn.
  • When using sunscreen sprays, spray and then rub the product into the skin to ensure uniform coverage.
  • Apply sunscreen before insect repellent when using both.
  • Do not use sunscreen on children younger than 6 months of age. For older infants and children, lotions are preferred over other formulations.

As we consider the opportunities to counsel patients on appropriate sunscreen use, we shouldn’t assume they’re getting this advice elsewhere. A recent survey found that fewer than 0.1% of physicians recommended sunscreen to patients during outpatient visits over a 21-year period. Dermatologists didn’t perform much better, recommending sunscreen to just 1.6% of their patients.1

Additional benefits?

A recent study conducted in Australia suggests daily sunscreen use may have a positive effect on skin aging. A total of 903 adults younger than 55 years were randomized into four groups: daily use of broad-spectrum sunscreen plus beta-carotene 30 mg; daily use of sunscreen plus placebo; discretionary use of sunscreen plus beta-carotene 30 mg; or discretionary use of sunscreen plus placebo. Participants in the daily groups applied sunscreen to head, neck, arms, and hands each morning. Skin aging was assessed via microtopography for 4.5 years.

The researchers found that those who used sunscreen daily had no detectable increase in the degree of skin aging. Those using sunscreen daily had 24% less aging compared with those in the discretionary groups. The use of beta-carotene had no effect on skin aging. While there were some study limitations and variables that weren’t closely controlled, these data suggest a possible additional benefit to sunscreen use.2

Many people assume they’re knowledgeable when it comes to sunscreens and protection from the sun’s harmful rays, until they get burned. Find ways to educate your patients on the optimal ways to protect against the potential dangers of the sun’s ultraviolet rays while still providing opportunities for outdoor fun and activities. Shelf talkers and signage in the appropriate OTC sections of the pharmacy can facilitate dialogue.

And don’t forget to practice what you preach!


National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention
Dermatology information in APhA’s Handbook of Nonprescription Drugs


  1. JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150:51–5.
  2. Ann Intern Med. 2013;158:781–90.