How to Protect Yourself from the Sun
The American Academy of Dermatology
Whether your skin needs medical, surgical or cosmetic treatment, trust the expert care of a board-certified dermatologist.
Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of skin color. Avoiding overexposure to the sun is the most preventable way to reduce your risk for all skin cancers, including melanoma, the deadliest form. Seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and applying sunscreen are important ways to protect your skin from exposure to the sun’s harmful ultra-violent (UV) rays.
How does the sun damage the skin?
Sunlight consists of three types of harmful UV rays: ultra-violet A (UVA), ultra-violet B (UVB) and ultraviolet C (UVC).
*UVB rays are the sun’s burning rays and are the primary cause of sunburn.
*UVA rays reach deeper into the skin and lead to signs of premature skin aging such as wrinkling and age spots. UVA rays also travel through window glass, leading to exposure even when you are indoors or driving in a car.
*UVC rays are most dangerous but are blocked by the Earth’s ozone layer.
There is no “safe” UV ray and there is no such thing as a “safe” tan.
In fact, the United State Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer have declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps as a known carcinogen (cancer-causing substance).
How do I protect my skin from the sun?
You can have fun in the sun, protect your skin and decrease your risk of skin cancer.
*Seek Shade: The sun’s rays are strongest between 10:00am and 2:00pm. If your shadow appears to be shorted than you are, seek shade.
*Wear protective clothing: such as long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when possible.
*Most clothing absorbs or reflects some UV rays. However, light-colored and loose knit fabrics as well as wet clothes that cling to your skin do not offer much sun protection. In general, the tighter the weave of the fabric and the darker the fabric color, the more UV protection the clothing offers.
*Generously apply a broad spectrum water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher to all exposed skin. Broad spectrum provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Reapply approximately every two hours even on cloudy day and after swimming.
*Use extra caution neat water, snow and sand because they reflect and intensify the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chances of sunburn.
*Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you have been in the sun, you may wish to use a sunless self-tanning product but continue to use sunscreen with it.
How do sunscreens work?
Sunscreens protect your skin by absorbing reflecting or scattering the sun’s UV rays.
How do I choose the right sunscreen?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:
*Broad spectrum protection ) protects against UVA and UVB rays.
*SPF 30 or higher
*Water resistance (up to 40 or 80 minutes)
Are high SPF sunscreens better?
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97% of the sun’s rays.
SPF’s higher than 30 block slightly more of the sun’s rays. No sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s rays.
It is important to note that even if you are wearing a high SPF sunscreen, it should be reapplied approximately every two hours when outdoors and always after swimming or sweating. Do not use SPF sunscreens as a way to stay in the sun longer.
What type of sunscreens is the best?
The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again.
The form of sunscreen you choose is a matter of personal choice and may vary depending on the area of the body to be protected and the type of skin you have. Available sunscreen options include gels, lotions, creams, ointments, wax sticks and sprays. Keep in mind the following tips:
*Creams are best for dry skin and the face.
*Gels are good for oily skin and hairy areas such as the scalp or male chest.
*Sticks can be helpful for targeted protection around the eyes.
Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they are easy to apply to children. Men may find it convenient to spray on a balding scalp.
The challenge is using spray sunscreens is that it is difficult to know if you have used enough spray sunscreen to cover all sun-exposed areas of the body. This can result in inadequate coverage and a sunburn. After you spray sunscreen on your skin, be sure to rub it in to ensure coverage.
Never spray sunscreen around or near your face or mouth. Instead spray an adequate amount of sunscreen into your hands and then apply the sunscreen to the face. When applying spray sunscreens on children, be aware of the direction of the wind to avoid children breathing in the sunscreen.
How much sunscreen should I use and how often should I apply it?
Follow these tips to ensure you are using enough sunscreen:
*Use enough sunscreen to generously coat all skin that will be not be covered by clothing. Ask yourself, “Will my face, ears, arms or hands be covered by clothing?” If not, apply sunscreen. Most people only apply 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen.
*Dermatologists consider one ounce of a cream or lotion-enough to fill a shot glass-as the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body. Adjust the amount of sunscreen applied depending on your body size.
*Apply the sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors.
What sunscreens are best for infants and children?
Ideally, babies under 6 months should not spend time directly in the sun. Since babies’ skin is much more sensitive than adult, sunscreen should be avoided if possible. Importantly, babies aren’t able to regulate their temperature well so they can easily become overheated. The best sun protection for babies younger than 6 months is to keep them in the shade as much as possible.
For toddlers and infants 6 months or older, sunscreen can be applied to skin not covered by clothing. Look for sunscreens containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They are most appropriate for the thinner skin of toddlers and infants 6 months or older. These ingredients do not penetrate the skin and are less likely to cause irritation.
Is sunscreen safe?
Yes, sunscreen is safe to use. Scientific studies actually support using sunscreen. Talk with your dermatologist if you are concerned about specific sunscreen ingredients.
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating the medical, surgical and cosmetic conditions of the skin, hair and nails. To learn more or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit http://www.aad.org or call toll free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
Visit the SPOT skin cancer website-SpotSkinCancer.org-to:
*Learn how to perform a skin self-exam.
*Download a body mole map for tracking changes on your skin.
*Find a free SPOTme skin cancer screening in your area.
*Share your skin cancer story.
*Download free educational materials to share with your family and friends or in your community.
Disclaimer: This information was taken directly from the American Academy for Dermatology pamphlet. Please call their above number or email them for more information and do check out their website.