by Dr. Jaime J. Vanourny
One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime; 13 million Americans are living with a history of nonmelanoma skin cancer, and nearly 800,000 Americans are living with a history of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
As the days get longer, shirt sleeves and pant legs often get shorter, exposing more of your skin to the intense summer sun. While the warm summer days are filled with baseball games, vacations, and other outdoor activities, they increase our exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, humidity, bugs and plants. However, summer skin problems can be prevented with a few simple changes to your skin routine.
You may notice this summer that sunscreen labels have changed. They can now tell you whether a sunscreen can help you prevent skin cancer, premature aging, and sunburn – or just sunburn. The first thing you want to look for are the words “broad spectrum.” This means that the sunscreen blocks you from both types of harmful UV rays – UVA and UVB. A broad-spectrum sunscreen will help protect against skin cancer, premature aging, and sunburn. A sunscreen that does not say broad spectrum, and only lists an SPF, will protect against UVB rays that cause sunburn, but it does not provide the extra protection against UVA rays. The second most important thing to look for in a sunscreen is an SPF of 30 or higher. With the new labeling requirements, sunscreens will no longer be advertised above an SPF 50.
Dermatologists also recommend you look for the words “water resistant.” This tells you the sunscreen will stay on wet skin. The label will also say “40 minutes” or “80 minutes,” which tells you how long your skin can be wet or sweaty before you need to reapply. I also try to remind my patients to apply their sunscreen 20-30 minutes before heading outside, since most need time to be absorbed into your skin to be effective.
Sunscreens should be reapplied every 2 hours and after swimming (even if the sunscreen is labeled as “water resistant”) and toweling off. Products will no longer be labeled “waterproof” or “sweat proof.” Another word you will no longer see on labels is “sunblock,” as this word is misleading. Sunscreen manufacturers must now only use the word “sunscreen.”
Don’t forget to protect your lips too. Follow the same recommendations as your skin and select a lip balm labeled “broad spectrum SPF 30.” I find that another commonly forgotten area in the summer is the ears. Remember to apply sunscreen to your ears. You can add extra protection by also wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
Patients often ask me what the best sunscreen is to use. My answer to them is usually whichever one they like the best and will actually apply to their skin. Smell the sunscreen and try samples when available to help ensure you will find one that you like. I also tell women who come into the office that wearing a sunscreen every day is one of the most important things they can do for their skin. Sunscreen helps prevent skin cancer, as well as decrease lines and wrinkles, blood vessels on the skin called telangiectasias, and brown spots.
You can choose a sunscreen with insect repellant, but remember that sunscreen needs to be reapplied more often than most insect repellants. Wearing protective clothing and hats will help protect you from the sun, as well as from insect bites.
To decrease your risk of skin cancer, protect your skin by using sunscreen, covering up, and seeking shade. You can help detect skin cancers early by looking at your skin once a month and contacting Piedmont Plastic Surgery & Dermatology if you notice anything changing, itching, or bleeding.