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Sun Safety and Sunscreen Smarts

Thursday, June 8, 2017

After a long, dreary, rainy spring, summer is finally here!  Time to spend some time soaking up the sun.  Unfortunately, some of us will overdo the sun thing and end up with sunburns, blisters, and pain.  The consequence of unprotected skin can be skin cancer, a serious condition that takes 9,000 American lives per year. 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.  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 average light-skinned person can stay in the sun with no protection for 15 minutes before starting to burn.  Taking precautions, therefore, is important.  These simple five steps will keep fun in “fun in the sun.”

Step 1 – Cover Up – When possible, wear clothing and a hat to protect against harmful UV rays.  Loose, light colored clothing will be cool yet protect you from sun exposure. Step 2 – Shade – Seek shade under an umbrella, tree, or shelter in order to reduce your exposure to UV rays. If you are at a ball game, out on the boat, or on the trail, consider carrying an umbrella to shade you. Step 3 – Sunscreen – Whether the day is sunny, partly cloudy, or very cloudy, it is important to apply sunscreen. Be sure to use enough - Follow 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.  Do not forget to apply it to often-missed places such as the back of the neck, ears, and toes.  Apply sunscreen to dry skin 30 minutes BEFORE going outdoors and reapply approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.  Don’t forget to coat lips with a SPF 30 or higher lip balm or lipstick.  Also, check the expiration date on your sunscreen.  It expires after 3 years. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following: broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays and a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher plus 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. Moreover, 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.

Step 4 – Hydrate – Warmer temperatures cause us to sweat more and become dehydrated.  Travel with a water bottle at all times to stay hydrated. Step 5 – Shades – Your eyes need protection from the sun too.  Wear sunglasses that protect your eyes against UVA and UVB rays.

Two more tips for preventing skin cancer:

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 or the CDC’s site at

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

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