Experts are unanimous on the recommendation that everyone should be using a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 15 every day all year. A strong connection between sun exposure/sunburn and risk of skin cancer has clearly been established. If you ever got sunburned once or twice, then your risk of skin cancer sometime in your life goes up a lot. Don’t be one of the one million people who will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year alone in this country.
There is a lot of confusion about sun protection and sunscreen products. First, there is no such thing as a safe tanning bed. Getting a tan before you go to Hawaii does not protect you. It only adds to the sun damage of your skin. The harmful ultraviolet rays of sunlight are what burns or damages the deeper layers of the skin.
There are two types of ultraviolet rays: A and B. They both are damaging to the skin and can lead to the development of this type of cancer. Skin cancer can happen at any age, but the skin has a memory, accumulating the sun damage throughout a lifetime. That is why skin cancers are more common as people age.
Sunscreen should be applied every day to the exposed skin even if you are not planning to be outdoors. UVA rays are able to penetrate glass while the UVB cannot. 70-80% of ultraviolet rays pass through overcast skies on cloudy days. Sand, water, and snow all reflect a great deal of sunlight. You need everyday protection regardless of the weather or your activities.
Choosing a sunscreen product need not be confusing. Many cosmetics have added some sunscreen for the obvious benefits in reducing UV exposure and preventing its premature aging effects on the skin. Look for a SPF of at least 15, broad spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB), and water-resistant if you are going to be active outdoors.
The American Academy of Dermatologists advocate these attributes and their seal of recognition can be helpful on packaging. The following is a list of ingredients that help provide broad spectrum coverage: avobenzone (Parsol 1789), cinoxate, ecamsule (mexoryl SX), menthyl anthranilate, octyl methoxycinnamate, octyl salicylate, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide. These ingredients will likely vary a lot in any given product depending on the amount of SPF and manufacturer.
Apply sunscreen to all exposed areas 20-30 minutes before going outdoors. Skin should be dry, coating it liberally and rub it in. Usual suggestions are one ounce of sunscreen to cover the exposed areas. One ounce would be about the same amount to fill a large shot glass. Take care to apply adequate amounts to face, nose, and ears as they are sensitive and often overlooked. Protect lips as well with sunscreen or an appropriate lip balm that has an SPF of 15. Reapplication should be done at least every two hours if you are swimming or perspiring heavily regardless of the claims of a water resistant product. Swimming, sweating, washing, toweling all reduce the effectiveness of your sunscreen so reapplication may need to be even more frequent. Common mistakes are not using enough, leaving certain areas unprotected and not reapplying. The SPF rating is only a measure of delaying the redness and its damaging effects. It does not eliminate it or make you bulletproof.
It’s never too late to protect yourself and your family from the harmful effects of the sun. Preventing sunburn with proper use of sunscreen is an important part of making your time in the sun safe and enjoyable.