Everyone wants to have fun in the sun — it’s why we live for the summer months. But the sun does a great deal more than just light up the beach for you. That huge ball of burning gases, some 92 million miles from our world, is vital to the survival of every living thing here.
We usually take for granted how it provides light, heat, and life. But with all of the good it does, it also can be deadly. Prolonged exposure can lead to severe damage to the skin, contributing to premature aging, cancer, and even possibly death. You have to protect yourself when you go outside, and one of the best ways to reduce the risk of severe sunburn or skin cancer is the regular application of sunscreen.
Simply put, sunscreen does exactly as the name implies, “screening” the amount of ultraviolet (UV) rays that reach any exposed skin. The sun gives off multiple forms of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, but the two that make it through the atmosphere are UVA and UVB. The most dangerous, UVA rays can damage the skin’s structure, not just burn it.
The sun protection factor (SPF) on sunscreens refers to the time factor in delaying a burn. For example, if you normally burn within 10 minutes and apply an SPF 15 sunscreen, the time is multiplied by a factor of 15, or 150 minutes. The Food and Drug Administration only allows SPF up to 50 because there is no added benefit beyond that number.
Most sunscreen on the market today protects against both UVA and UVB. The most effective chemical ingredient in sunscreen to protect against UVA is zinc oxide. There’s also titanium dioxide and avobenzone, also known as Parsol 1789, which helps protect against skin damage and cancer.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to know exactly how much sunscreen to use, but it’s important to apply an adequate amount,” advises Burhan Yanes, MD, medical oncologist with Dayton Physicians Network. “For someone of average size, say 150 pounds, and 5-feet, 4-inches tall, one full ounce of sunscreen should work. That’s about the size of a golf ball of sunscreen in the open palm of your hand.”
And how long does it last with each application? There really is no exact figure, so you should consult the container for the manufacturer’s recommendation. However, the longer you are out in sun, the more often you’ll need to reapply. Protection decreases with sweat, some evaporation, and water.
Use caution at the pool
At some point this summer, you’re probably headed to the pool, and you need sunscreen even when swimming. But Dr. Yanes wants you to be aware of what that “water-resistant” sunscreen label really means, because it is in no way “waterproof.”
“All sunscreens eventually wash off, and calling them water-resistant can be misleading,” he said. “Water-resistant sunscreens just tend to stay on the skin a while longer, depending on their formulation, but you should still re-apply regularly when you’re out in the sun, as directed.”
Risks for sunburn, permanent skin damage, and cancer increase for a variety of reasons, including the length of time you are exposed, your age, and your skin type. Skin cancer risks increase with age as a result of accumulated exposure to the sun’s UV rays.
Dr. Yanes pointed out that, “Even those people with darker skin can get burned, but the danger of severe sunburn is more prevalent with fair-skinned people.” Young children and anyone with a history of skin cancer should use proper sunscreen and avoid long-term UV exposure.
Also remember: cloud cover offers no additional protection, because you can still get burned. You’ve probably heard the phrase “sunshine on a cloudy day.” Even when those clouds are covering its brightest rays, the sun is still lurking behind, and it can be nearly as dangerous as when it’s high and bright in a clear summer sky.
Regardless of the sun’s full visibility, its dangerous light rays are always present. Although a little less intense, you should still keep your skin protected, even when it’s overcast outside. Apply the sunscreen in the same manner as you would in full sun.
If you’re concerned about your own skin cancer risks, you can set an appointment with Dr. Yanes by calling our office at 937-293-1622937-293-1622.