Sunscreen and Sun Protection
The sun produces both visible and invisible rays. Invisible rays that are not filtered by the atmosphere’s ozone layer, also known as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, are harmful to individuals without proper skin protection. These rays play a role in the development of skin cancer. The intensity of ultraviolet (UV) rays varies with the time of day, season, latitude, and altitude. UV rays are higher around midday, during the summer, at higher altitudes, and closer to the equator. They are also increased by reflections from water, sand, and snow. It is important to note that clouds do not block UV rays.
To help you avoid overexposure to the sun, use the UV Index, which is a scale that measures the intensity of the sun’s UV rays in a given location. The UV Index provides a daily forecast of the risk of overexposure to the sun by predicting UV levels on a scale of 1 to 11+. To reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, always take precautions against overexposure and take special care when the UV Index predicts exposure levels above 5. Refer to the table below.
UV Index Exposure level 2 or less Low 3 to 5 Moderate 6 to 8 High 8 to 10 Very high 11+ Extreme
Follow these simple rules:
- Prevent skin cancer = sun protection
- Prevent advanced stage of skin cancer = sun protection + early detection of skin cancer
- Early detection of skin cancer = skin self-exam + early reporting to your dermatologist during your lifetime
Avoid Sun exposure and seek shade
There is no safe excessive exposure to any type of UV light.
Avoid excessive exposure when the sun is strongest, between 10 AM and 4 PM. Plan outdoor activities early or late in the day to avoid midday overexposure. Never use a tanning lamp or bed or artificial tanning devices that use UV light.
Sun protection items (such as a beach, stroller, or summer umbrella; window shield; and tinted window) help provide protection against UV rays; however, they do not always provide full protection. UV rays can still be reflected by sand, water, concrete, porches, and decks and indirectly reach your skin. Seek shade whenever possible, especially during peak hours of the day, between 10 AM and 4 PM.
Wear protective clothing and accessories
Protective clothing: Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants with tightly woven fabric, when outdoors. A white cotton T-shirt only blocks 50% of the sun’s rays. Most clothing absorbs or reflects UV rays, but white fabric like loose-knit cotton and wet clothes that cling to your skin do not offer much protection. The tighter the fabric weave, the more sun protection it will offer. There is a wide variety of clothing and styles that are now available for all ages and types of activities.
Hat: Wear a broad-brimmed hat.
Sunglasses: Wear sunglasses that have UV-absorbing lenses. The label should specify that the lenses block at least 99% of UVA and UVB rays. Sunglasses can protect both the eyes and the skin around the eyes.
What ingredients should I look for in sunscreen? Chemicals used in sunscreen that block UVB rays include padimate O, homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, octyl salicylate, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, and octocrylene. Chemicals used in sunscreen that block UVA rays include ecamsule, oxybenzone, and avobenzone. Broad-spectrum sunscreen means that the mixture of ingredients used in the sunscreen block both UVA and UVB rays. Some ingredients, such as titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, also known as physical sunblock, reflect UVA and UVB rays. Titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide are two ingredients used in chemical-free sunscreen for individuals who are allergic to chemical sunscreen. When choosing a sunscreen, you should make sure the mixture of active ingredients blocks both UVA and UVB rays. These sunscreens are also known as broad-spectrum sunscreens. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 on all exposed areas of your skin.
How should I use sunscreen? Sunscreen should be applied generously and evenly so as not to miss any areas of sun-exposed skin. Apply at least 20 minutes prior to sun exposure for maximum sun protection, even on cloudy days. Spread it evenly over all exposed areas of skin, including ears and lips. Unless you are using a specially made formula, avoid applying sunscreen to your eyelids, since it may irritate your eyes. Reapply sunscreen frequently, every 1 to 2 hours. If exposed to water, either from swimming or sweating, a water-resistant sunscreen should be used and may need to be reapplied more often. Self-tanning lotion is a safe alternative to tanning, but it is not a safe alternative to using sunscreen. Self-tanning lotion provides minimal sun protection, so additional protection with sunscreen is needed.
How should I choose a good sunscreen? You should choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF 30. Sunscreen has to be reapplied frequently, every 1 to 2 hours, so choose one that you would like to apply to your skin. Sunscreen is available in many forms, including creams, gels, lotions, sprays, foams, and wax sticks. Remember, sunscreen is only good when it is used properly and reapplied frequently.
Children and the Sun
Protecting children from the sun is especially important, since most of our lifetime exposure occurs before the age of 20. Excessive sun exposure is the single most important risk factor for developing skin cancer. Freckles are the first sign of sun damage. Sun protection should begin in early childhood and continue throughout an individual’s life to prevent skin cancer. Children under the age of 6 months should be kept out of the sun and covered by protective clothing. Apply sunscreen beginning at 6 months of age. The rules for sun protection in children greater than 6 months of age are the same as in adults except that children are not conscious of the effects of excessive sun exposure. Therefore, parents or a supervising adult is responsible for a child’s sun protection. Check with your child’s school to see if there is a sun-protection program for children who participate in outdoor activities.