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Sunscreen Basics

Posted on May 20, 2013

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the kick-off for warm, sunny weather. Since skin cancer is the most common yet one of the most preventable cancers, it is important to know the basics of sunscreen and the simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.

 Sunscreen Basics

  • UVA and UVB - Sunscreen provides protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UVA and UVB are two main types that damage skin and increase your risk of skin cancer. UVB is the main cause of sunburn and cancer, while UVA is thought to cause wrinkling, aging, and sagging of the skin.

  • Broad Spectrum Sunscreens - Sunscreens differ in their ability to protect from UVA and UVB. The FDA recommends looking for sunscreens labeled as Broad Spectrum, meaning they protect you from both types of radiation.

  • SPF - SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF 15 or greater is recommended for the best protection. It is a measure of protection against UVB rays and it works by reducing the amount of the time that your skin is vulnerable to the sun. For example, if your unprotected skin tends to turn red after 20 minutes of being in the sun, a sunscreen of SPF 15 will theoretically prevent reddening by 15 times longer, which is about 5 hours. Another way to think about SPF is by the percent of UVB rays that are blocked. An SPF 50 sunscreen blocks a greater percentage of UVB than an SPF 15 would.

 The Best Way to Use Sunscreen

  • Many moisturizers and lotions with a sunscreen already in them are sufficient for everyday activities with minimal exposure to the sun.

  • Activities that require a lot of time outdoors call for stronger, water-resistant sunscreen that should be applied more often.

  • Apply a palm-full of sunscreen to exposed skin 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply every 2 hours, or after swimming or excessive sweating.

  • Protective clothing like hats or sunglasses also prevent sun damage.

  • Limit time in time in the sun or seek shade if possible, especially between 10am and 2pm when the sun’s rays are most intense.

 Fast Facts

  • UV radiation is still a danger on cold or cloudy days. It is important to apply sunscreen during prolonged outdoor exposure on these days.

  • Indoor tanning bed use is known to directly increase your risk of skin cancer. One indoor tanning session may increase your risk of melanoma by 20%, with each additional session adding 2% to that risk.1

  • More than 90% of visible changes to skin aging are caused by the sun.1

  • Each year there are more cases of skin cancer than there are combined of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers.1


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