The American Academy of Dermatology, the leading organization of physicians specializing in the treatment of skin diseases, continues to strongly recommend the use of sunscreens as part of a comprehensive skin cancer protection program.
- Avoid the sun during midday (10 a.m. - 4 p.m.) when damaging rays are the strongest.
- Wear protective clothing such hats with a four-inch brim, long-sleeved shirts, pants, neck bandannas, and UV-protective sunglasses.
- Regularly use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating, even if using waterproof sunscreen. Apply as much lotion as you would use for dry skin. For stronger protection, use zinc oxide to protect sensitive areas like the nose, ears, cheeks, and shoulders. Use sunscreen even on cloudy days because 70%-80% of harmful rays (UV radiation) can go through cloud cover. High-risk people and those living in sunny climates should apply sunscreen every day.
- The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 80% of lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 18. Research indicates that regular use of sunblock with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of 15 or higher during the first 18 years of life can lower the risk of certain skin cancers by 78%. For maximum protection, children should also wear wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved T-shirts and sunglasses, and avoid the mid-day sun.
- Dermatologists recommend using sunblock with a minimum of SPF 15. Remember, SPF 15 is a minimum recommendation. If you or your child has fair skin, light colored eyes and hair, freckles, or spends a lot of time outside, consider using an SPF 30 or higher. It is important to Block That Sun! Because children spend a lot of time outdoors, they get an average of three times more sun exposure then adults.
- Ideally, infants should not be out in the sun, but this is sometimes unavoidable in Texas. The "chemical free" sunscreens that contain only zinc oxide (the main ingredient in diaper cream) or titanium dioxide are safe and very effective blocks against all wavelengths of light. A baby can die from severe sunburn, and therefore unprotected sun exposure is much more dangerous than an occasional sunscreen application.
Other important protection tips include:
- Teach children how to protect themselves from the sun. Even young children can learn to SLIP on a shirt, SLOP on sunscreen and SLAP on a hat.
- Remember that harmful rays can burn in up to three feet of water and can reflect off sand, water, snow, concrete, and similar surfaces. The sun’s rays also are more intense at higher altitudes. Sitting under a shade tree or a beach umbrella near such reflective surfaces does not guarantee protection from ultraviolet rays. Sunscreen is as important when skiing or hiking in the mountains as it is at the beach.
- Know that certain medications such as antibiotics can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor)
A product’s SPF helps you determine how long it would take to burn with versus without a sunscreen. (If it is not washed or wiped off.) Here is an example: Say you normally burn in 20 minutes. If you apply an SPF-15 sunscreen—and reapply as recommended--you would be protected for about 300 minutes, or five hours (SPF 15 x 20 minutes = 300 minutes). Despite the meaning of SPF, most sunscreens wear off in two hours. It is important reapply sunscreen every two hours and right after swimming. Reapplying does not give you more time in the sun; it just maintains your SPF level. Also, realize that an SPF 30 product does not afford you twice the protection of an SPF 15 product: SPF 15 absorbs 93% of the sunburning rays, while an SPF 30 absorbs 97%.
If you have any of the symptoms of skin cancer, see your physician as soon as possible. Remember skin cancer can usually be cured if it is found and treated early! Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, other skin marking, or change in the way an area of skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer or a warning that it is likely to occur.