Practice Sun Safety to Prevent Skin Cancer

July 08, 2013 / Michael M. Siegel, MD

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Photo credit: organicglow.com

The summer has started and with it lots more time to be outdoors.  However while doing so, you need to remember how best to protect yourself against sun exposure, which can cause skin cancer.  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the population.  Over 90 percent of these cases are associated with sun exposure.  The most lethal form, melanoma, has now increased to a lifetime risk of 1 in 50.  So sun protection is crucial to decreasing your chances of getting skin cancer.

The primary ways to protect your skin while outdoors during the day are the following.

  • Lavish use of sunscreen
  • Use a hat
  • Wear a shirt
  • Avoid exposure to midday sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Avoid sunburn; it is thought that intermittent intense exposure producing sunburn raises your risk of skin cancer more than chronic exposure. One or more blistering sunburns in childhood or adolescence more than double a person’s chances of developing skin cancer and specifically melanoma later in life.
  • Wear sunglasses to protect the skin around your eyes.

 

Sunscreens are one of the most effective methods of decreasing the potential harm from sun exposure.  They can reduce the effects of ultraviolet light rays A and B (UVA and UVB) on our skin. UVA rays produce tanning and aging of the skin while UVB rays cause sunburn. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) label indicates the protective effect of the sunscreen; however the protection only increases slightly going from 93 to 98 percent when comparing a product with an SPF of 15 and 50!

One of the most important factors in the effectiveness of sunscreen is in its application.  Studies show that most consumers use only 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount per application plus they tend to reapply it at intervals greater than the recommended every 2 hours. However, even its use in suboptimal amounts is better than no use at all.

Finally when looking for a sunscreen product make sure that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.  Consumer Reports tested and rated highest the following three brands.

  • Up and Up Sport SPF 50 Spray (Target)
  • Equate Ultra Protection Sunscreen SPF 50 Lotion (Wal-Mart)
  • Coppertone Water Babies SPF 50 Lotion