Soak Up The Sun Safely

Summer should mean sunscreen – and a lot of it. Not only does sunscreen safeguard against sunburn and skin cancer, it also protects against early skin aging.

People of all ages and ethnicities are at risk for developing skin cancer. Over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. 

“A common misconception is that if you have a darker skin tone you won’t get skin cancer or sun damage,” said Lindsay Strowd, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. “Although someone with a darker complexion has more natural skin protection, chronic ultraviolet (UV) exposure can still result in skin cancer, appearance of dark spots, age spots and wrinkles.” 

Strowd recommends looking for the terms “water-resistant 80 minutes” and “broad-spectrum” when purchasing sunscreen, and at least sun protection factor (SPF) 30. Higher-number SPFs block more of the sun’s rays, yet no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the rays. Sun-protective clothing such as broad-brimmed hats and long- sleeve shirts offer additional protection. 

Many cosmetics advertise SPF-infused products. While these products are convenient, typical application amounts for daily use are not enough to actually achieve the advertised SPF. One should not solely rely on makeup containing SPF as an appropriate means to protect the skin, especially for longer periods of sun exposure, Strowd said.

Strowd and the American Academy of Dermatology offer these additional tips for keeping skin safe this summer:

Sunscreen Safety

  • Apply sunscreen to skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.
  • Use at least one ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) on the body, including a nickel-sized amount to the face.
  • Check the sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen without an expiration date has a shelf life of less than three years, but if it’s exposed to high temperatures it loses its effectiveness. Never leave sunscreen in a car for this reason.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming, sweating or toweling off – especially when the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
  • For sensitive skin, look for sunscreen products that only contain the physical sunscreen agents zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, as these are less likely to irritate the skin.
  • Sunscreen should be worn even on cloudy days, as the UV rays penetrate clouds and can still cause sunburn. 

Since sunscreen alone cannot fully protect the skin, it’s also important to protect skin with clothing and accessories.

Dress the Part

  • Synthetic fibers (such as polyester and rayon) offer the greatest sun protection.
  • A brimmed hat that extends three inches or more all the way around helps shade the face, neck, ears and the top of the shoulders.
  • If wearing a baseball cap, apply sunscreen to ears and the back of neck.
  • Large-framed sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection against cataracts and the tender skin around eyes.
  • Consider garments labeled with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF), which have been specially treated with chemical UV absorbers. UPF clothing is widely available at sporting goods stores.

“Consistent and thoughtful sun protection is vital to preventing skin cancer,” Strowd said. “Using proper amounts of sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing are essential behaviors to reducing the risk of skin cancer.”