Did you know that 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer at some point in their life? Every year, there are about 3.5 million cases of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed. It is estimated that in 2015, melanoma (a more severe type of skin cancer) will account for more than 73,000 cases of skin cancer. Simply applying sunscreen in the proper way can dramatically decrease your risk of developing skin cancer.
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Dermatology, showed that most people have difficulty picking the right sunscreen. The study consisted of 114 participants and fewer than half could correctly identify how well a sunscreen protected sunburn, premature aging and skin cancer. Researchers at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago conducted the study and found only 49& of participants surveyed knew what "SPF" stood for. Just in case you don't, it means "sun protection factor."
This could stem from the look of sunscreen labels changing as of 2012. Sunscreen manufacturers used to be required to display only the SPF rating. Most participants understood that the higher the SPF the more protection you received but many are still confused around the protection against UVA rays that cause photoaging (premature aging of the skin) and also lead to skin cancer. Only 29% of those who participated in the study understood this notion.
Currently, under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s current sunscreen labeling guidelines, only products that protect against both UVA and UVB rays can receive the “broad spectrum” label. It's crucial you select a sunscreen that protects your skin from both kinds of damaging rays.
SUN PROTECTION 101
The most important way you can protect yourself from skin cancer is to stay out of the sun. However, most people enjoy the sun too much to completely avoid it. Plus, sun exposure is essential for us to get vitamin D. Therefore, the next best thing you can do is to wear sunscreen. But with so many types of sunscreen to choose from, how do you know which one is the right one?
First, let’s talk about SPF. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which is a measure of how well sunscreen will protect our skin from UVB rays. UVB rays are the type of radiation that causes sunburn, damages skin, and can contribute to skin cancer. However, it is important to protect our skin not only from UBV rays, but UVA rays as well.
When choosing a sunscreen, there are three main things you should look for. Make sure you choose a sunscreen that is 1) at least SPF 15 or higher, 2) broad spectrum (protects from UBV and UVA rays), and 3) water-resistant.
Quick Sunscreen and Sun Protection Tips
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after every dunk in the pool or ocean.
- Limit your exposure to the sun, especially during the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- If you have to be outside midday, find some shade, like an umbrella or a tree.
- Cover up with long sleeves, pants, a hat and sunglasses whenever possible.
If covering up completely seems too extreme, consider at least wearing a shirt to cover sunburn-prone areas like the chest and shoulders.
SPF rates how effective the sunscreen is in preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays. So, if you normally burn in about ten minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15. This means you could go 150 minutes before burning. For most people, SPF 15 works just fine. However, if you have very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or a condition like lupus which makes a person more sensitive to sunlight, you may want to consider SPF 30 or higher. Also, SPF 30 does not mean you are getting twice the protection. SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays while SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays.
A broad-spectrum sunscreen is key in protecting your skin from both UVB and UVA rays. Both UVA and UVB rays can harm your skin. A broad-spectrum, or full-spectrum, sunscreen is designed to protect you from both. UVA rays can prematurely age your skin which can cause wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays can burn your skin. Too much exposure to UVA or UVB rays can cause skin cancer.
Water-resistant sunscreen is a must since it can rub off when the sun makes us sweat or while swimming. Water-resistant sunscreen means it will stays effective after 40 minutes in the water. Because sunscreen is not water-proof, you must reapply after sweating or swimming.
Ultimately, the best sunscreen involves staying in the shade and wearing protective accessories such as a hat and sunglasses. You can still get a great tan, even in the shade. This is especially important when the sun’s UV rays are the strongest, which is between the hours of 10am and 4pm.