It’s summer, and time to get outside, have fun and soak up some sun. There’s just one problem: skin cancer. Skin cancer is both dangerous and common – it is the most common form of cancer in the United States and over two million people are diagnosed annually. Even more startling, sun exposure is the primary cause of over 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancer cases reported in the United States. Sunscreen can help you prevent burns that can over time lead to skin cancers. Do you know about sunscreen, which one is right for you and how to use it properly?
Some people possess characteristics that place them at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. These risks include:
- Having a large number of moles on the body.
- Red or blonde hair, blue eyes, fair skin and freckles.
- Difficulty tanning and skin that burns easily.
- Family history of skin cancer.
- Taking medication that increases sun sensitivity.
Use these prevention techniques while you are out in the sun:
- Stay out of the sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the sun is at its peak.
- Wear clothes made of tightly woven fabrics and a hat that shields your face, neck and ears.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.
- Use sunscreen that is at least SPF 15, applying it all over your body, face and lips.
- Do not use tanning beds; they are as damaging as natural sunlight.
Avoiding excessive sun exposure is ultimately the best way to protect your body from skin cancer.
If you must go in the sun, routinely inspect your body for any changes such as a new freckle or enlarged mole. If you suspect that a spot on your skin is new or has changed in appearance, consult a dermatologist immediately.
Choosing The Right Sunscreen
Sunscreen can be a critical component in protecting yourself against skin cancer—but are you using the right sunscreen? Do you know how to choose the right sunscreen for you?
Sunscreen Labeling and Differences
All sunscreen comes labeled with a Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, which is the measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent ultraviolet B (UVB) light from damaging the skin. SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. Some sunscreen also protects against Ultraviolet A light, as well as UVB. This kind of sunscreen is called broad-spectrum.
While you can find information online about calculating sun exposure times, keep in mind that duration equations are not always accurate and SPF numbers are not supposed to help you determine the amount of time you can remain in the sun after initial application.
Recent changes mandated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have made sunscreen selection a lot easier. Under the new rules, sunscreen can only claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging if it is both broad-spectrum and has an SPF of 15 or higher. Sunscreen that is not broad-spectrum or has an SPF of less than 15 can only claim to prevent sunburn and must include a warning stating it cannot prevent skin cancer or early aging.
Sunscreen products also can no longer claim to be waterproof, only water-resistant, and labels must note a time limit of either 40 or 80 minutes before the sunscreen is ineffective.
While the FDA changes have cleared up confusion regarding the various types of sunscreen, how do you know what type is right for you? The answer can be found in sunscreen recommendations made by the American Academy of Dermatologists. Their suggestions include:
- Choose sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Choose sunscreen that is broad-spectrum.
- Choose sunscreen that is water-resistant.
- Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating or jumping in and out of the water.
- Use approximately 1 ounce of sunscreen every time you apply so that you adequately cover your exposed body parts. This is roughly equivalent to a shot-glass full or a glob the size of a golf ball.
On top of these suggestions, it’s always important to keep in mind that:
- The need for sunscreen is not diminished by where you live or your skin type or color.
- UV rays can penetrate both clouds and windows.
- Sunscreen expires. Sunscreen is designed to remain at its original strength for up to three years. Many bottles come with an expiration date.
- Even if you’ve done a lot of tanning or have been sunburned in the past, it is not too late to protect your skin from further damage.