By Dr. Jennifer Malin
chief medical officer at Optum
With summer officially here, you may be rushing outside to enjoy the sunshine and warm weather. You may also be thinking about how to best protect your skin.
More people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined, and most skin cancer is associated with sun exposure. Knowing how to help protect your skin from the sun may have a lasting impact.
To help set the record straight, here is some useful information on some common sun protection myths.
True or false? Your sunscreen should have UVA and UVB protection.
True: When walking down the sunscreen aisle, the choices can be overwhelming. Start by looking for a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection. That means it filters both types of ultraviolet radiation.
The Skin Cancer Foundation says that ultraviolet A rays are present all day and can cause skin-aging and wrinkling while ultraviolet B rays are strongest during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and can cause sunburns. Both types have been linked to skin cancer.
True or false? One application of sunscreen lasts all day.
False: Sunscreen should be reapplied throughout the day and SPF, or sun protection factor, can help you know how often. If you typically burn after 10 minutes in the sun, multiply that number by the SPF. For SPF 30, this would translate to 300 minutes, but the sunscreen will start to rub off before then. So, reapply often, at least every two hours.
Sunscreens should also be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off or excessive sweating.
True or false? You should use the highest SPF possible.
False: You may be surprised to learn that higher SPF does not always mean better protection. You may not need anything higher than SPF 30 if you’re applying generously and often. This is because, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SPF 30 protects against 97% of the sun’s rays, while SPF 50 increases that just a bit – to 98%.
True or false? A little dab of sunscreen goes a long way.
False: To get a sunscreen’s full protection, you should consider applying about one ounce (about two tablespoons). Again, it’s important to reapply every two hours or right after coming out of the water.
True or false? You can get sun damage on a cloudy day.
True: One of the most common mistakes people make is forgetting about incidental sun exposure. Your skin is still soaking up UV rays even on cloudy days or while driving with the windows down. To help protect skin in such situations, consider making protection part of your normal routine. Put sunscreen on first thing in the morning, even if you aren’t thinking about going outside – be consistent.
True or false? Sunscreen is better than covering up.
False: While sunscreen is vital and should be used, it’s important to stay covered up. Wear lightweight, tightly woven hats, shirts and pants. Combine sunscreen and sun-protective clothing for your strongest protection.
True or false? Both sunscreen spray and sunscreen lotion offer the same protection.
It depends. While sunscreen spray can be easier to apply, it comes with a few risks. Sunscreen spray is harder to control and most people do not use enough — experts recommend spraying each area of your body for at least six seconds. You also need to rub it in after application. In addition, ingredients in spray sunscreens may be irritating to your lungs if inhaled, so you’ll want to be sure you’re not spraying it directly on your face. Consider using a lotion for a base and reapplying with spray instead.
Summer is a great time to get you and your loved ones outside to enjoy the fresh air, outdoor activities and exercise under the sun so don’t let concerns about sunscreen stop you from enjoying the warmer weather.
Dr. Jennifer Malin is the chief medical officer at Optum.