Summertime is right around the corner, which means more hours of sunlight
to golf, hike and enjoy the great outdoors! While playing in the sun feels
good, too much exposure will seriously damage your skin.
The main culprit is ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It attacks the pigment
cells in your skin, leading to melanoma, the deadliest kind of skin cancer,
as well as premature aging. By blocking the absorption of ultraviolet
(UV) radiation, sunscreens extend the length of time you can be outdoors
before your skin begins to redden, but they don't give you total protection.
N. Charles Diakon, DO, is a dermatologist at
Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology for the School
of Medicine at the University of California San Francisco. While he enjoys
spending his free time teeing off on the green, his first priority is
to protect his skin. Dr. Diakon shares 5 common sunscreen blunders; avoid
making these mistakes and stay safe in the sun this summer!
1. Skipping sunscreen when it’s cloudy. On cloudy, cooler days people think they’re protected from sun damage,
when in actuality, “clouds offer no protection, because harmful
UV rays go right through them.” That’s why residents of states
like Washington and Vermont have higher rates of skin cancer than sunny
states like California. Don’t forget to wear sunscreen year-round,
even when it’s cloudy or foggy.
2. Choosing a sunscreen with a low SPF. When it comes to sunscreen, there’s a lot of information to absorb.
Before you reach for last year’s bottle of sunscreen and head out
the door, verify the sunscreen provides:
- Active protection—check the expiration date!
- Broad-spectrum protection (protects against both UVA and UVB rays)
- Water resistance (meaning the sunscreen provides protection while swimming
or sweating for a time — either 40 or 80 minutes, depending on the label)
- An SPF of 30 or higher. “The most important quality for sunscreens
is the SPF number, period!” says Dr. Diakon. “The higher the
number, the better the sunscreen.”
3. Not applying sunscreen until you’re outside and forgetting to reapply. Sunscreen takes some time to absorb into the skin, so lather up about 15
minutes before going outdoors. If you’re swimming or sweating, remember
to take a “time out” and reapply at least every two hours.
If it’s more convenient to use a spray, go for it! “We have
a saying among dermatologists,” said Dr. Diakon. “‘Any
sunscreen the person uses is a good one.’” Provided that it
meets the criteria above, the type you use is a matter of personal choice.
Available options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks,
4. Not using enough and missing spots. Now is not the time to skimp on quantity. Apply at least an ounce of sunscreen
(enough to fill a shot glass) to cover exposed areas. “Don’t
forget to apply sunscreen to the ears and use a lip balm that contains
sunscreen,” says Dr. Diakon.
5. Relying on sunscreen to provide complete protection. Higher SPF numbers mean greater protection from UVB rays, but no sunscreen
can block all UVB rays. For example, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 blocks
about 97% of UVB rays, while a sunscreen with an SPF of 50 blocks about
98% of UVB rays.
In addition to sunscreen, remember to:
- Wear sun protective clothing (known as Ultraviolet Protection Factor or
UPF) to provide an extra layer of protection and block sun exposure to
the body, legs and arms. Don’t forget to wear polarized sunglasses
to avoid degenerative damage to the eyes and hats to protect the scalp.
“Hats are VERY important. Studies show that the lighter color a
person's hair is, the less UV rays are screened out, and the scalp
is especially sensitive to sun damage,” said Dr. Diakon.
- Seek shade when appropriate. Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and
4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps—this should go without saying. Remember
that there’s no such thing as a healthy glow. In fact, a tan is
a telltale sign of sun damage that not only causes skin cancer; it leads
to age spots, wrinkles and discoloration.
Incorporate these simple tips into your summer plans so you can enjoy the
sun safely! Remember to perform “thoughtful” self-exams once
a month to look for a mole that is changing or “any new spot or
growth that is red, brown or black” and consider annual screenings
by a dermatologist.
Click here to learn if your moles indicate a skin cancer risk.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.