By: Dr. Corinne M. Howington, MD
(SAVANNAH, GA) The American Academy of Dermatology discovered that one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their lifetime.
If Americans take precautions to prevent skin cancer, then we can prevent one person from dying every hour from melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest and most aggressive form of skin cancer.
Using sunscreen is the most important precaution you can take to avoid melanoma. To reduce your chances of getting melanoma, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go to the beach or go swimming. Sunscreen should be used if you are out in the sun for more than 15 to 20 minutes because the sun starts damaging your skin within 15 minutes.
A generous amount of sunscreen should be applied to your skin because studies show that people put on only a quarter of the amount of sunscreen they are supposed to use. This happens because most people are unaware that they should use a palm full of sunscreen on each area of their skin. If you use spray sunscreen, spray each area of your skin twice.
Sunscreen should be reapplied each time you get out of the water. If you are reapplying sunscreen, I recommend letting the sunscreen dry for 10 to 15 minutes before getting back into the water.
When you shop for sunscreens, look for water resistant sunscreen that is SPF 15, 30 or 50. The most effective sunscreen is water resistant for up to 40 minutes or 80 minutes from the time you get into the water. FDA regulations require manufactures to label whether or not sunscreen is water resistant for 80 minutes, 40 minutes or not at all. I recommend using sunscreen that is water resistant for up to 80 minutes.
I also recommend looking at the ingredients in sunscreen to make sure it protects against both types of rays that damage the skin, UVA rays and UVB rays. To protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays, use sunscreen that contains zinc and titanium because these ingredients are gentle on sensitive skin. Both Vanicream and Elta MD are sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium. Vanicream and Elta MD are ideal for people who are allergic to a lot of different ingredients because both brands do not contain a lot of added chemicals.
Vanicream and Elta MD are ideal for babies and children. However, sunscreen should not be applied to babies under six months old because the chemicals in sunscreen are too harsh for their skin. Anyone older than six months old should use sunscreen and wear protective clothing in the sun to prevent skin cancer.
Wearing protective clothing is the second most important precaution you can take to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. When you purchase protective clothing look for clothing that contains SPF fibers. Regular t-shirts contain SPF fibers that are equivalent to SPF 15 sunscreen. However, t-shirts do not contain enough SPF fibers to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
I recommend buying SunGuard and applying sunscreen 30 minutes before your skin is exposed to the sun. SunGuard is a $2 packet of white powder that sun-proofs your clothes when it is added to the washing machine with your laundry. SunGuard makes wearing regular cotton clothes equivalent to wearing SPF 30 sunscreen.
Using SunGuard and staying out of the sun during the hottest time of day, 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., is the third most important thing you can do to protect your skin from the sun. If you go out during the hottest time of day, reapply sunscreen every 60 to 90 minutes depending on the SPF of your sunscreen.
If you do not use sunscreen, then your skin could suffer from sun damage or worse, skin cancer. Sun damage makes people look older than they actually are. To avoid sun damage, stay out of the sun during the hottest time of day, wear sunscreen, reapply sunscreen, and wear protective clothing in the sun.
Listening to these tips will help you maintain a healthy complexion all year long.