Posted: Monday, May 10, 2021

Tips for Proper Sunscreen Use

It’s not quite summer yet – we have a few more weeks before it’s official – but lots of people have already brought out the shorts and sandals. With temperatures on the rise, you’re likely to be outside more in the next few months, which is why it’s important to remember to wear sunscreen. Statistically, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in his or her lifetime, so it’s crucial for all adults and children to practice sun safety. With the variety of types and brands, though, knowing which type of sunscreen is best for you and your family can be challenging.

Blount Memorial Cancer Center radiation oncology coordinator Charae Lovin says there are two key things to keep an eye out for. “What you want to pay close attention to are the words ‘broad spectrum,’” she said. “Under the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) guidelines, the words ‘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 let you know 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 see any more,” Lovin continued. “The AAD has determined that calling a product ‘sunblock’ is misleading, so manufacturers now only use the word ‘sunscreen.’ Also, 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. “Even if you’re just going outside for a short walk, you’re at risk for skin damage from the sun, so sunscreen should be your best friend this spring and 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. I also would recommend self-tanners for anyone looking for a tanned, sun-kissed look, as they’re a much safer alternative to suntanning and tanning beds,” she added.

Finally, Lovin says it’s critical to perform self-checks on your skin. “We should all be doing skin self-checks to look for moles or anything that looks suspicious,” she said. “Remember to use the ‘ABCDEs of skin cancer’ as a guide – Asymmetric shape, Borders that are uneven, Color or multiple colors in one blemish, Diameter greater than 1/4 inch, and Evolving appearance. If you find anything concerning, you should see a board-certified dermatologist for an exam and evaluation,” she explained.

It’s never too late to start protecting your skin from sun damage. You can help decrease 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


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