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Applying Sunscreen – You're (Probably) Doing It Wrong

August 11, 2020

August in Texas means the arrival of 100-degree temperatures and a reminder to pay close attention to skin cancer prevention. The danger of the abundant sunshine we encounter in our 'wide open spaces' state is unmistakable: more than 4,000 Texans will face melanoma this year.

Using sunscreen is essential to sun protection, but the bad news is that when it comes to applying sunscreen, many of us are doing it wrong. The good news is that doing it right can be summed up in two words: use more.

Sunscreen works for a limited time. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours or according to the directions on the product label, but more frequently if you’re swimming or sweating a lot. Water-resistant sunscreens need to be reapplied every 40 or 80 minutes, according to the product label.

Experts recommend using a broad-spectrum (protects against both UVA and UVB rays), water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. FDA rules on product labeling prohibit sunscreen being labeled as “waterproof,” “sweat proof,” or “sunblock,” serving as important reminders that one application of sunscreen is not enough.

Skin damage from the sun takes many forms, including sunburns, wrinkles, and several types of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 20 percent of Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and those with five or more sunburns are twice as likely to get melanoma. Protecting yourself from sun damage prevents annoyances like sunburns now, and complications like skin cancer later.

As the summer heats up, here’s what Texans need to know about sun safety:

Be Sun Smart

Anyone can get skin cancer, and everyone can take steps to reduce skin cancer risk. While some risk factors like family history and naturally fair skin cannot be changed, exposure to UVA and UVB rays can be limited. Avoid being outdoors in sunlight too long, particularly in the middle of the day when UV light is strongest, and avoid indoor tanning. Protect your skin and use sunscreen as directed.

Check for A, B, C, D, and E

Check any moles or changes on your skin against these symptoms, and if they match, consult a dermatologist.

  • Asymmetry: One side of the mole is different from the other in size, shape, or color.
  • Border: The edge or border of the mole is not smooth.
  • Color: The color of the mole contains various shades of tan, brown, black, or in some instances red, white, or blue.
  • Diameter: Skin cancer melanomas are usually larger than six millimeters in diameter, but they can be smaller.
  • Evolving: The mole changes over time or develops new symptoms, such as bleeding, crusting, or itching.

Think Beyond Sunscreen

To stay safe outside, cover up! Always use sunscreen, even on hazy or cloudy days, since UVA and UVB rays can still penetrate clouds. But there's more to sun protection than slathering on sunscreen. Wide-brim hats, sunglasses with UVA and UVB blocking lenses, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants or skirts can all help protect your skin.

Simple preventative steps now can help protect against more serious complications later. Be smart while enjoying the summer sun and keep your skin safe.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.