House Call: Importance of sunscreen

Updated: May. 17, 2021 at 3:48 PM EDT
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With summer around the corner, we continue our discussion about the importance of sunscreen. Joining us tonight for Skin Cancer Awareness Month is a Maggie Lowther, Oncology Program Coordinator at UHC.

1). When do you need to apply sunscreen?

The sun’s UV rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes. Put sunscreen on before you go outside, even on slightly cloudy or cool days. Do not forget to put a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin. Get help for hard-to-reach places like your back.

It is important to remember that sunscreen wears off, so you want to put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours.  Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before being in the sun (for best results) so that it can be absorbed by the skin and less likely to wash off when you perspire.

  • Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming or strenuous exercise.
  • Apply sunscreen often throughout the day if you work outdoors, and wear a hat and protective clothing.

2).  What application method is best?

The American Cancer Society has a catchy approach to Safe Sun Practices:

Slip on a shirt, Slop on some sunscreen, Slap on a hat, and Wrap on some sunglasses. You will also want to do the following:

  • Shake well your sunscreen bottle before use to mix particles that might be clumped up in the container. Consider using the new spray-on or stick types of sunscreen.
  • Be sure to apply enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, use an ounce (a handful) to cover your entire body. One ounce is equivalent to a shot glass size full for one application for the average sized person.
  • Use on all parts of your skin exposed to the sun, including the ears, back, shoulders, and the back of the knees and legs.
  • Apply thickly and thoroughly.
  • Be careful when applying sunscreen around the eyes.

3). What should we be looking for when we buy sunscreen?

  • Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, but SPF 30 is recommended.
  • Buy a nonstinging product or one specifically formulated for your face.
  • Buy a brand that does not contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) if you are sensitive to that ingredient.
  • Try a sunscreen with different chemicals if your skin reacts badly to the one that you are using. Not all sunscreens have the same ingredients.
  • Use a water-based sunscreen if you have oily skin or are prone to acne.
  • Be aware that more expensive does not mean better. Although a costly brand might feel or smell better, it is not considered more effective than a cheaper product.
  • Be aware of the expiration date, as some sunscreen ingredients might degrade over time.

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