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Noyes Health / About Noyes / News / Article

Sunscreen Smarts

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Back in the early 1980s, a suntan lotion company advertised its product as “the deepest, darkest tan - the savage tan.”  The accompanying photo was of a white woman with a very, dark (fake) tan standing next to a tiger – all meant to be very exotic and attractive.  Besides what some folks would consider its political incorrectness, the ad also encouraged vast amounts of time in the sun.  Fast forward 30 plus years and we are much more aware of the dangers of too much time in the sun. The latest statistics indicate that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.  According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), anyone can develop skin cancer regardless of age, gender, or race.  5 million U.S. residents were treated for skin cancer last year. Furthermore, the CDC reports that nearly 9,000 Americans die each year from melanoma.  Most cases of melanoma are caused by exposure to the sun.  So while it is great to spend time outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, it is important to protect your skin from the harmful rays.  The best way to do this is with clothing, hats, sunglasses, and sunscreen. You can protect yourself by purchasing the correct sunscreen, applying it properly, and being diligent daily as you venture outside.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following: broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays), sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher and water resistance. (At this point, there is no scientific evidence that a SPF higher than 50 is any more effective than a SPF of 50.  Purchasing a SPF of 30 or 50 will work.)   You should use sunscreen every day if you will be outside. And because the sun emits harmful UV rays year-round, apply sunscreen even on cloudy days when up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can still penetrate your skin.  Remember, snow, sand, and water increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays.

When applying sunscreen, use enough to generously coat all exposed skin.  Ask yourself, “Will my face, ears, arms or hands be covered by clothing?” If not, apply sunscreen. Most people only apply 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. The AAD suggests following the shot glass guideline.  One ounce which is about a shot glass full is the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of an average size body.  Adjust this amount depending on your body size.  Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes BEFORE going outdoors and reapply approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating. Don’t forget your lips with a SPF 30 or higher lip balm or lipstick.

Sunscreens help protect your skin from sunburn, early skin aging and skin cancer. However, sunscreen alone cannot fully protect you. In addition to wearing sunscreen, dermatologists at the AAD recommend taking the following steps to protect your skin and find skin cancer early:

  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.

  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.

  • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

  • Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.

  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, you may wish to use a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

  • Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, itching or bleeding on your skin, see a board-certified dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.

Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.

Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.

Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.

Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, you may wish to use a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, itching or bleeding on your skin, see a board-certified dermatologist. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.

For more information on skin cancer, sunscreens, and protection visit the American Academy of Dermatology website at https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs or the CDC’s site at http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/call_to_action/index.htm.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at Noyes Health in Dansville.  If you have questions or suggestions for future articles she can be reached at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.  

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