This past Saturday, June 20, was the official start of summer. It has, however, felt like summer outside for a few weeks now. And with the arrival of warm weather comes a plethora of outdoor activities in the summer sun. Many of us are probably going to be spending much more time outside this season than we do other times of year – and due to the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps this year more than ever – so it’s a good time to remember how important it is to wear sunscreen. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime, so it’s critical for all children and adults to adopt proper sun safety habits this summer.
Blount Memorial Cancer Center radiation oncology coordinator Charae Lovin says while there are many types and brands of sunscreen, there are some key things to remember. “The phrase to look for is ‘broad spectrum,’” she said. “Under the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) guidelines, ‘broad spectrum’ signifies that the product protects against both UVA and UVB rays, which are the two types of harmful sun rays. The next thing to look for is the sun protection factor or SPF. The AAD currently recommends choosing a product with an SPF of at least 30 or higher,” she explained. “The next thing to be aware of is the true meaning of the product’s ‘water resistant’ qualities. Not all sunscreens offer this, but if they do, it means the product will continue to be effective even if it gets wet. Water-resistant sunscreen does require more-frequent application, though, which is something many people may not realize. Sunscreen products now have times printed on them, such as ‘40 minutes’ or ‘80 minutes,’ which tell you how often sunscreen should be reapplied if you’re swimming or sweating heavily. Sunscreens also can no longer say that they are ‘sweat-proof’ or ‘waterproof’ as no sunscreen is 100 percent waterproof,” she added.
“Sunblock is a term you don’t really see any more,” Lovin continued. “A few years ago, the AAD determined that calling a product ‘sunblock’ is misleading, so manufacturers now only use the word ‘sunscreen.’ Also, Lovin says while you can buy sunscreen products that contain insect repellants, dermatologists recommend buying these products separately. Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours, but insect repellants tend to last much longer. Because skin cancer can develop on your lips, it’s also crucial to have some sort of protection on them. Choose a lip balm that has an SPF of 30 or more to help keep them protected,” she explained.
Lovin says there also are important things to remember when you’re applying sunscreen. “It takes at least 20 minutes for sunscreen to absorb into your skin, so remember to apply early,” she said. “Most adults need at least an ounce of sunscreen, or roughly the amount that can fit in your palm, to cover their bodies. Remember to apply to any exposed areas of skin including your neck, face, ears, feet, legs and scalp if you happen to have thinning hair. People who get sunburned typically didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t apply it properly or forgot to reapply, or used an expired product. Check the expiration dates of your sunscreen – last year’s tube or bottle may need to be replaced,” she explained.
Lovin says a recent trend toward wearing “swim shirts” is a good idea, but they don’t override the need for proper sunscreen. “As people have become more aware of the skin cancer risks that sun exposure brings, swim shirts have become more popular, both for children and adults,” she said. “However, they are not a replacement for sunscreen,” she added.
“Even if you’re just going outside for a short walk, you’re at risk for skin damage from the sun, so sunscreen really needs to be a priority for everyone this summer. It’s also worth noting that the hottest and brightest time of day typically is between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Remember that if you look at the ground and your shadow is shorter than you, it’s probably a good time to take a sun-break and find some shade,” she added.
It’s never too late to start protecting your skin from sun damage. You can help reduce your risk by:
- Wearing sunscreen 30 SPF or higher
- Making sure your sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays
- Applying sunscreen 20 minutes before you are going to be in the sun
- Reapplying sunscreen every two hours
- Remembering to use lip balm SPF 30 or higher
- Wearing a broad-rimmed hat to protect your ears, head and face
- Wearing sunglasses that offer a high percentage of UV protection