Enjoy the sun without danger


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Everyone – regardless of age or skin color – should use sun protection on a regular basis.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in our country. Many types of skin cancer are curable, but its deadliest form – melanoma – affects more than 73,000 people every year.

I’ve spent my career studying skin cancer, and I’ve seen many patients suffer as a result of too much time in the sun. Many of these cases could be prevented altogether by applying these important tips on how to avoid the dangers of sun exposure.

Who needs sun protection?

Everyone – regardless of age or skin color – should use sun protection on a regular basis. Infants and small children are particularly vulnerable to burning and may need lotion with a higher SPF (sun protection factor).

Don’t assume that your skin color offers protection. Researchers have noted that melanoma rates have risen 20 percent among Latinos/Hispanics during the past two decades.

How to buy sunscreen

When you buy sunscreen, look for products labeled “broad spectrum”. These products protect you against both UVA and UVB rays. Some products only protect against UVB. UVAs are dangerous because they affect your skin year round and all day, can travel through windows and clouds, and penetrate the skin deeply.

Don’t fall for the “waterproof” label – this has shown to be false. Sunscreen is only water-resistant.

Remember that increasing the SPF factor does not necessarily mean you can spend a longer amount of time in the sun. Confusing as it may sound, SPF30 does not offer you twice as much time as SPF15.

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How to use sunscreen

Apply sunscreen about 15 minutes before going out, so it can absorb into your skin. Reapply every two hours and be sure to cover every exposed area.

Don’t forget the neck, tops of ears and even the scalp for those who have little hair – both babies and older people. It’s difficult to reach your back, so ask a friend to apply it there.

Water resistance time impacts how frequently you should reapply sunscreen when you are wet or sweating.  If you towel off, you should reapply sunscreen immediately.

Be cautious when using sprays. It’s difficult to apply evenly, and some of it may blow away in the wind. Lotions have been shown to be more effective and easier to apply evenly. If you choose to use a spray, apply an adequate amount that covers the exposed skin thoroughly rather than just misting the spray on.

Finally, last summer’s sunscreen has often lost its punch because the bottle has been exposed to heat, so be sure to purchase new products each year.

Watch your time and accessorize

The most dangerous hours to be exposed to the sun are between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If possible, move your outdoor activities to a different time of day.

If you must be in the sun, use a wide-brimmed hat or umbrella to protect your face. Wrap-around sunglasses will make a big difference in protecting your eyes and the skin around them. Wearing loose, lightweight clothing with long sleeves and long pants will help prevent sun damage to your arms and legs. Lastly, don’t forget to use lip balm that contains SPF15.

Be sure to drink plenty of water to rehydrate, and simply take a break in the shade now and then. Your skin will thank you.

Get checked

All adults should be screened for skin cancer once a year – ideally by a dermatologist. Some individuals may need more frequent screening due to their health history and risk factors. Ask your doctor what is right for you. 

UT Southwestern wants to hear from you. Share your screening story with us in the comments section below or email us at Email.