Being 'sun smart,' too, is your best defense against burn

DeAnn Lazovich

Summertime means being outside, whether it's at the beach, a street festival or just in the backyard.

As good as it might feel to soak up the sun, doctors warn that people need to take more seriously their use of sunscreen to avoid premature aging or worse — skin cancer.

It's getting a little easier to do that.

In 2012, new rules from the Food and Drug Administration took effect governing label information regarding sunscreen. Included in the new rules is a definition of the term "broad spectrum," which means a sunscreen offers protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) in proportional amounts. Before, sunscreens did not address UVA radiation, which causes skin cancer and early aging but not necessarily the telltale signs of sunburn.

Additionally, claims such as "waterproof," "sweatproof" or "sunblock" are no longer allowed.


Sonya Lunder , senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group , said despite greater awareness of the damage sun can do and products with higher sun protection factors (SPF), melanoma rates are still increasing. Melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer.

"No one really knows why," she said. "We think mismarketing of sunscreen really contributes to that problem by giving consumers the idea that they can rely on sunscreen and be out all day safely in the sun. People misuse sunscreen and get more sunburns, not fewer."

Never enough

Another potential cause of the rise in melanoma is indoor tanning beds.

The Masonic Cancer Center at the University of Minnesota found in 2010 that "people who use any type of tanning bed for any amount of time are 74 percent more likely to develop melanoma, and frequent users of indoor tanning beds are 2.5 to 3 times more likely to develop melanoma than those who never use tanning devices, said member Dr. DeAnn Lazovich , associate professor and program director in the School of Public Health.

Thus, it's important to think about both indoor and outdoor skin safety.

How to use. Dermatologists said there's a lot of sunscreen misuse, and the biggest problem is most people don't use enough.

"Nobody uses enough, ever, ever, ever. You're supposed to use one ounce, which is as much as a shot glass to cover all of your exposed body areas," said Dr. Jason Reichenberg , vice chair at the University of Texas Southwestern at Austin department of dermatology .


Apply it at least 15 minutes before going out, and that amount needs to be reapplied every two hours — more often if the person is sweating a lot or swimming, he said.

Apply even in overcast

Wear sunscreen on a cloudy day too. "You can still get a bad sunburn on a cloudy day as the ultraviolet rays still pass through," said Dr. Elizabeth Martin , a dermatologist with Pure Dermatology & Aesthetics , in Hoover, Ala.

And forgoing sunscreen to get vitamin D exposure from the sun is a bad idea, the dermatologists stressed. Instead, take a supplement or eat foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, or drink fortified orange juice.

Being "sun smart" is just as important as sunscreen use, says Dr. Clark Otley , chairman of Mayo Clinic's department of dermatology .

"Sunscreens are only one part of a smart sun protection strategy, which also includes protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, avoiding peak sun intensity hours when possible for outdoor activities, and application of sunscreen on exposed skin," Otley said. "Sunscreens also reduce sun damage to the skin as well as painful sunburn. People's skin stays younger-looking through sun protection strategies."

Though sunscreens reduce risk of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, "the data on melanoma is less clear," Otley said. "Because melanoma is less common, it is more difficult to prove a definite benefit of sunscreen for melanoma prevention."

How to buy


For over-the-counter sunscreens, the dermatologists recommend buying a broad spectrum with an SPF of at least 30. Additionally, the dermatologists and Lunder say the mineral-based sunscreens, those with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, offer the best coverage.

For chemical-based sunscreens, a key ingredient is avobenzone, which is one of the best UV filters. However, Lunder said it breaks down quickly, which is why sunscreen needs to be reapplied.

Some over-the-counter brands the dermatologists recommend are Aveeno, CeraVe, Cetaphil and Neutrogena. The Environmental Working Group's website has a searchable database based on different types of sunscreens.

Although spray sunscreens are popular with parents, the experts frown on these because it's difficult to tell if the sunscreen was properly applied, not to mention the chance of inhaling the spray.

Sunscreens can be used the next year, but, "if you have a bottle left from last year, you didn't use enough," Martin said.

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