With spring here and summer around the corner, nicer weather and warmer temperatures invite people to spend more time outdoors.
This is a good time to remember to always wear your sunscreen.
Protecting your skin with sunscreen isn’t just to prevent sunburn. It can also help prevent skin cancer – the most common cancer worldwide – from developing.
The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma, explained Jennifer Hunter, MD, a dermatologist with Trinity Health. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma by about 40 percent and lower your melanoma risk by 50 percent.
As there are many functions of the skin, including protecting the inner organs from environmental stressors, it is important to protect the skin – and sunscreen can help.
“Men, women, and children over six months of age should use sunscreen every day,” the Skin Cancer Foundation advised. “This includes people who tan easily and those who don’t.” They also note that skin can be damaged by sun exposure even if you do not burn.
Sunscreen is an important tool that shouldn’t be limited to just the summer months, Dr. Hunter explained. “We’re exposed to UV rays year-round, even on rainy days, snowy days, and cloudy days.”
Dr. Hunter recommends the following tips to keep your skin safe year-round:
Check the SPF on your sunscreen. The SPF is the sun protection factor of sunscreen. “The number tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin if you apply the sunscreen exactly as directed compared with the amount of time without sunscreen,” the Skin Cancer Foundation noted.
For example, a sunscreen with SPF 30, when used properly, would protect you 30 times longer than if you used no sunscreen. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher is necessary for casual exposure and extended outdoor activities, such as distance running, hiking, swimming, and outdoor sports. Dr. Hunter noted: “The higher the number, the better since there is a tendency to underapply sunscreen in general.”
It is also important to note that the sunscreen should be “broad spectrum,” which means that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
Check the expiration date on the sunscreen. Yes, sunscreen has an expiration date – and when it reaches that date, it begins to lose its effectiveness, Dr. Hunter said. It won’t become completely ineffective immediately, but over time, the efficacy of the sunscreen will diminish, she added. “Make sure you can find that date and honor it.”
Use a lip balm with SPF 30 or higher. Don’t forget about your lips which, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, receive a lot of sun exposure, which makes the lips – especially the lower lip – a common spot for skin cancers.
Wear your sunglasses. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. “They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure,” they add.
The CDC advised that sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection.
Be sure to cover up. This can include ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) clothing, long sleeves and long pants, wide-brimmed hats, and protective gloves.
“If wearing this type of clothing isn’t practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or a beach cover-up,” the CDC advised. “Keep in mind that a typical T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.”
Wear your sunscreen – and reapply. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying sunscreen every two hours of exposure, as well as immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you need it. This allows the sunscreen to bind to your skin, the Skin Cancer Foundation noted. Dr. Hunter suggested putting it on the first thing in the morning if you know you will be outside for any period of time during the day, in a vehicle, or inside by windows; she notes that UVA rays can go through window glass.
Apply an ample amount of sunscreen. For the face and neck, Dr. Hunter noted the standard is to apply a teaspoon-and-a-half for each application; for the body, about one to two fluid ounces (or “a shot glass” worth) of sunscreen should be used.
Avoid tanning and sunburns. Dr. Hunter warns against tanning or getting sunburns. “When you tan or burn, you’re damaging your skin,” she said, noting that you never want to tan or burn through sunscreen. When it comes to protecting your skin, “there is no such thing as a good base tan.”
Store your sunscreen properly. Like food, sunscreen can spoil if it is not stored properly. “The compounds in sunscreens are compromised in extreme temperatures,” Dr. Hunter said. “You never want sunscreens to melt or freeze.” Sunscreen should be stored in a cool, dark place. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that, when outdoors, sunscreen containers should be wrapped in towels or kept in the shade, as well as in coolers while outside in the heat for long periods of time.
Be mindful of reflection. UV rays can reflect off concrete, sand, and water. (And in the winter, it can also reflect off snow and ice, Dr. Hunter notes.)
Avoiding peak sun times between 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., if possible. The time when UV exposure is likely to be greatest is between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., the American Skin Association noted. “Nonetheless, protection from UV rays during all daylight hours and weather conditions is important,” they added.
Lastly, Dr. Hunter advised not to be swayed by products, such as makeup or moisturizers, that have sunscreen in them. While these don’t need to be avoided, it is important that “dedicated sunscreens” – or regular sunscreens – are also used. “Dedicated sunscreens do not have an issue with dilution, and thus they will give you the SPF coverage as stated on the label if used as recommended,” she said.
She added that when applying multiple products, the order of application is important. When applying sunscreen, medication (such as medication for acne) should be applied first, and then sunscreen. After that, moisturizer, makeup, and the like can then be added.
Trinity Health Dermatology includes Jennifer Hunter, MD, and Ann Welch, FNP-C. For appointments or consultations, please contact Dr. Hunter at 701-857-5760 or Ann at 701-857-7382.