Using Sunscreen Can Save Your Life
Sun Protection Tips
It’s summer, that glorious time of the year when we all head to the beaches, pools and picnics, enjoying so many outdoor activities. So, to protect ourselves, we go to the store and buy our supply of sunscreen.
The other day I walked to my local grocery store and came face to face with the sun screen display. It was an awesome display of good and not-so-good products.
Most of us can get totally confused by the entire experience. But, the best thing to remember about sunscreen is that it is very important to your health and the health of all of your family members, so, USE it! Everyday.
I worked for a dermatologist who specialized in skin cancer and skin cancer surgery for 12 years. What did I see and learn there? That skin cancer is a killer. It disfigures you and works its way through your body and does terrible damage. Of course, we have wonderful advances in protecting us from the sun, amazing surgeries done by experienced and caring physicians to rid our bodies of the cancers and do it in a way to keep the scaring of the skin to a minimum with beautiful cosmetic results. The problem is that we, as patients, choose to be careless with our skin care. We go out into the sun from childhood without protection and let it happen. With all the sunscreen products out there, sun protection clothing and hats available, why do we allow ourselves to be exposed to this killer? My purpose in writing this is to try to help you stay well and briefly educate you in a few aspects of sunscreen and skin care.
This is the simple way to think of sunscreen. I used to teach my patients this everyday. Sunscreen has what is called the UVB and UVA factors. That all has to do the the waves of the sun as they enter the atmosphere. It’s a little too scientific for me and most people, so simply remember this … UVB is the Burning factor. The factor that causes all that skin cancer. UVA is the Aging factor. It causes us to get those “barnacles” of aging — brown spots, wrinkles, leathering of the skin, and can also lead to skin cancer. So, always buy sunscreen with both UVB and UVA aspects.
SPF is the Sun Protection Factor in the sunscreen. Usually, daily-use creams and moisturizers have an SPF of 15. But, we always recommended at least an SPF of 30 or higher for daily use. When out in the sun at the pool, beach, working in the yard, park, etc., put the sunscreen on at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun, and that’s a total of 2 Tablespoons at least of sunscreen to all sun exposed areas. Reapply after sweating, swimming, or just laying on the lounge chair every 2 hours. Also, remember that there is no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. It is labeled now as water resistant. It comes off with abrasion also, such as laying on a towel, rubbing skin on a chair or pillow or clothing.
So now you’re standing at that sunscreen display and trying to choose. You’re going to have to read the labels until you learn which products to trust. Here are a few hints:
- Look for ingredients such as zinc oxide and Octinoxate along with that SPF of 30+. These are best.
- Next consider what you are going to be doing while wearing this sun protection. Is it under your makeup foundation all day, what type of skin do you have, what activities such as golf, swimming, picnic are you going to be doing? Find one that can serve multiple purposes. Check with your dermatologist. In our office we always carried trusted brands and had them for sale to our patients.
These are just few personal choices my family and I rely upon:
- For daily use under makeup I like Elta MD, a brand we carried in the office. I like UV Shield, SPF 45. It is an oil-free sunscreen, sheer and light and great for everyday use. I use it on my arms, hand, front and back neck areas. I am a skin cancer patient, so I rarely miss using my sunscreen. Our physicians also liked the Neutrogena dry-touch sunblock products. Neurtrogena has been a tried and true product line for years, has multiple SPF choices and has a clean and lightweight feel. Our children love the tear-free sprays, like Banana Boat with SPF 50. We also use Aveeno Continuous Protection Sunblock SPF 55 on those of us with sensitive skin.
- Children should always be protected. For children under the age of 6 months, please just don’t take them out into the sun. Ask you pediatrician for specific guidelines on sun exposure for your children. There are excellent pediatric sunscreen out there, so follow their suggestions. Most pediatricians have samples of the sunscreen they recommend in their office and love to give them to you to help you get started. Cover your children with sun protection clothing, hats, t-shirts and bathing suits with coverups made for that purpose. Companies like Coolibar, Inc. have an excellent reputation for sun protection clothing for children and adults. It’s your job to care for them and TEACH them to care for themselves.
- Protect your scalp. Wear a hat, not just any hat but one with Sun Protection Factor of at least 50 and not one that’s a straw hat or one with loosely woven mesh. The sun goes right through those little holes in the weave. Men and women alike get major skin cancers on their scalps and ears, the back of the necks. Hats are an excellent way to prevent that. Companies endorsed by physicians are the best. Like Coolibar, Solartex, and Sun Protection Hats.
- Don’t ignore the sun when driving your car. UVA and UVB filter right through our car windows, sun roofs, windshields. Men get so many skin cancers on their left sides, arms, ears, neck just from exposure to the sun. Use your sunscreen faithfully in your cars too.
- And to everyone of you ladies and gentlemen alike, if you are worried about those wrinkles, spots and leathery skin that comes with aging, use that sun screen faithfully. We all have those iodine and baby oil stories that we got from our youth. We baked as a duck in the oven, day after day, and now wonder why we see such signs of aging on our skins. Protect it. Cover it. Use your sunscreen. Don’t smoke. This disease process can be prevented.
The Skin Cancer Foundation is the best place for information and protection advice. From their web site here are a few Skin cancer prevention tips:
- Seek the shade, especially between 10 AM and 4 PM.
- Do not burn.
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths.
- Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
- See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.
I’ve seen the results of melanoma in children and adults, young and old. I’ve watched mothers cry when their daughters and sons had surgery to remove skin cancers. I’ve prayed with patients who were undergoing Mohs surgery in our office. I’ve watched patients pray together while waiting for their next stage of surgery. I’ve seen the tears of joy when the nurse comes to get the patient and announces that they got all the cancer out. I’ve cried with wives and children of adults dying from the results of melanoma. An oncologist once told me that as far as cancers go, he hates melanoma most. If it’s in your family history, go see your dermatologist every year. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin or your ethnicity. Skin cancer doesn’t differentiate in skin color. Everyone can get it. And, please follow the guidelines for using sunscreen. Take care of you and yours. We want you to live a long and happy life.