Protecting yourself and reduce your risk of skin cancer in the sun

No Sidebar

sunscreen and skin cancer

Along with bringing sunscreen with you to the beach, here is something else to remember. It may not keep you away from skin cancer as much as you hope.

In 2012, The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) helped protect consumers from skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure by establishing standard tests and labeling the sunscreen products. But since then, many tests have shown that the products provide less protection than they are advertised.

This is a worry because overly exposed to the ultraviolet rays (UV) produced by the sun can result in skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest type. The American Cancer Society forecasts about 76,380 new melanoma cases and about 10,130 patient deaths this year, so there are good reasons for diligence.


What is melanoma skin cancers?

According to American Cancer Society, melanomas can develop anywhere on the skin, but they are more likely to start on the trunk (chest and back) in men and on the legs in women. The neck and face are other common sites.

People with dark pigmented skin have lower risks of getting melanoma at these common places. However, anyone may get melanoma on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and under the nails, said the American Cancer Society. On those specific body parts, African Americans have a larger chance of having melanoma than white people do.

The risk of melanoma rises as people grow older. The average age of diagnosed patients is 63. But melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults (especially young women).


Follow these tips to protect your skin and reduce your risk of skin cancer:

1. Pick the right sunscreen

Choose the sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB, which are harmful types of ultraviolet rays. Both can cause skin cancer, disfiguring lesions, and premature wrinkling.

The level of protection against UVB rays is measured by SPF, or sun protection factor. For UVA rays, which penetrate skin more deeply, sunscreens are rated as passing or failing government standards.

Pick sunscreen rated at least SPF 30, considered the minimum needed. Consumer Reports’ recent testing of 65 sunscreens found more than 40 percent didn’t meet their SPF claims, so it is good to have a SPF 40 or 50 to increase chances you’re getting at least SPF 30.

Avoid sunscreens labeled higher than SPF 50, which protects against 98 percent of UVB rays. Higher SPF numbers falsely imply much greater protection, leading some sun worshippers to stay outside longer.

There’s actually no such thing as waterproof sunscreen. Sweat and water wash sunscreen from our skin, so the FDA no longer allows manufacturers to claim that a sunscreen is waterproof. Some sunscreens are water-resistant.


2. Putting the sunscreen on

“Use sunscreen every day, every time you poke your nose outside,” says Dr. Theresa M. Michele, who oversees the Food and Drug Administration’s evaluation of non-prescription drug products.

You also have to use it correctly: Most people using sunscreen don’t realize they’re applying too little, too late and too infrequently, says Dr. Darrell Rigel of the American Academy of Dermatology’s sunscreen regulations task force.

Use one ounce of sunscreen, an amount that is about equal to the size of your palm. Thoroughly rub the product into the skin. Don’t forget the top of your feet, your neck, ears, and the top of your head.

Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, then reapply at least every two hours, more frequently if swimming or sweating a lot. With spray-on sunscreen, apply two coats, then rub it in to ensure even coverage.


3. Reapply sunscreen

To continue protecting our skin from the sun when outdoors, we must reapply sunscreen:

  • Every 2 hours
  • After toweling off
  • When sweating
  • After being in water
  • When using water resistant sunscreen, you’ll need to reapply every 40 to 80 minutes.


4. Seek shade

Experts recommend staying indoors or finding some shade, especially from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs, and a broad-brimmed hat to protect your face, ears and neck.

The FDA’s Michele notes that ultraviolet rays are stronger, and therefore more dangerous, at high altitudes and in southern states, so people there should be extra careful. Ditto for those spending time around water or sand, which reflect UV rays.

Protect your skin with clothing. When going outside wear a long‐sleeved shirt, pants, a wide‐brimmed hat and sunglasses.


5. Check your body for skin cancer signs



how to spot skin cancer

Infographic created by American Academy of Dermatology.


If you spot anything changing, growing, or bleeding, see your dermatologist!


Story compiled with information from The Associated Press and American Cancer Society.