Spring has sprung and soon it will be summer — time for tee-ball games, visits to the park and fun at the pool, lake or pond. Like any good mom, sunscreen remains a staple in your summer tote bag. You slather the kids in it before sending them off into the sun’s rays — but are you protected?
While the sun might feel good shining on your face after a long Ohio winter, the perceived benefits are only short term. Exposure to the sun actually accelerates the effects of aging and increases your risk for developing skin cancer.
Preventing wrinkles and age spots might be of some importance, but even more important is preventing skin cancer. More than one million new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. There are also many studies that have found an association between sunburns and an enhanced risk for melanoma, the most severe type of skin cancer.
If someone told you that there was an inexpensive magic potion to slow the aging process and possibly prevent cancer, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to use it?
The good news is that this magic potion is right at your fingertips — sunscreen.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that, regardless of skin type, a broad-spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 should be used year-round. This will help protect against sunburn, premature aging (including age spots and wrinkles) and skin cancer.
Sunscreens should be applied to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. When using sunscreen, be sure to apply it to all exposed areas and pay particular attention to the face, ears, hands, and arms. Rub it in thoroughly, including the newer spray versions. Don’t let the spray sit on the skin’s surface. Children especially might rub it off accidentally or on purpose.
Coat the skin liberally. Most people apply only 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. One ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body properly. Don’t forget that lips get sunburned, too, so apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
Sunscreens should be reapplied at least every two hours or after swimming or perspiring heavily. Even “water-resistant” sunscreens may lose their effectiveness after 40 minutes in the water. Sunscreens rub off as well as wash off, so if you’ve towel-dried, reapply sunscreen for continued protection.
Despite claims, there is no “safe” way to tan. A tan is actually the skin’s response to injury caused by UV exposure. Tanning occurs when UV rays penetrate the skin’s outer layer causing the production of melanin as a response to the injury. Exposure to UV rays, both natural (the sun) and artificial (tanning beds), results in a change in the skin’s texture, causing wrinkles and age spots. Therefore, tanning to improve your short-term appearance actually causes long-term skin damage. Studies have also shown that UV exposure during indoor tanning can damage the DNA in the skin cells, suppress the immune system, and cause eye damage, including cataracts and ocular melanoma.
With so many risks, outdoor and indoor tanning are simply not safe or healthy ways to feel good about yourself. They will only hurt your appearance in the long run. If you feel the need to bronze your skin, opt for spray-tanning, self-tanning lotions and make up, and always use sunscreen.
It’s never too late to protect yourself from the sun and minimize your future risk of skin cancer. Before you step outside, remember — sunscreen isn’t just for kids.