Sunscreen Tips

beach sun summer ocean sea

SPF 30 is the new 15

  • SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays
  • SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 98%.

Doctors now typically recommend at least SPF 30 — at least being the key words. If you have a family history of skin cancer or are vacationing in a tropical spot (where the sun is especially intense), go for 50 or even 70. No sunscreen provides 100% protection. So to be safe as possible, you still need to reapply every two hours and after a swim, even if you used the water-resistant kind, says Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. And remember:

  • Sunscreen becomes less effective about three years after you open the container.
  • Check labels for the term broad-spectrum: The sunscreen provides protection against both UVA (wrinkle- and cancer-causing) and UVB (burning) rays. So if you’re shopping and there’s no broad-spectrum mention, check the ingredients for zinc or avobenzone, the only two that provide top-notch UVA coverage.

Layer it on
Think you apply enough? Almost no one does.

“Several big studies show that most people rub in only about a fourth of what’s needed to reach the labeled SPF — it’s faster and easier to put on just a bit,” notes Dr. Jeffrey Dover, clinical associate professor of dermatology at Yale University.

Instead of that old advice to use a shot glass-size dose, all our experts recommend applying two coats. Squeeze a line of lotion down your arms and legs and rub in, then do it again. Ditto for spray formulas: hold the nozzle close to your skin and spray, moving slowly up and down until you see a sheen, then go back over the area.

For your face, apply a pea-size drop to each cheek, your forehead and your chin, then smear in. Repeat!

Don’t forget your nose
It’s the number one sunburn-spot, dermatologists say.

“People apply sunscreen to their face, but either skip or speed over their nose — especially if they wear glasses, because they don’t want to take them off,” Dr. Steven Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center says. Dr. Ronald Moy, a dermatologist and spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation. adds, “80% of the skin cancers I remove are on the nose.”

Other commonly missed areas include the feet, hair part, ears and chest, as well as the backs of hands and legs. Use a sunscreen stick to spot-apply.

Get antioxidant insurance
Since rays can still get through sunscreen, companies are now including antioxidants such as vitamins C and E and green tea to help mitigate damage.
If you don’t want to bother applying a serum that contains them beneath your moisturizer or sunscreen (Wang’s first choice), try a souped-up SPF pick.
Realize that sunscreen is only one part of a sun-smart plan

“The hierarchy of sun protection should be avoidance first, then seek shade and wear a wide-brim hat and protective clothing, then use sunscreen — but most people have that sequence backward,” Wang points out.

Consider hitting the beach or pool in the morning instead of midday (when sun is strongest), and bring an umbrella and a tightly woven long-sleeve shirt.

Know that it’s never too late to start safe habits
So you baked in the sun as a teen with little or no sunscreen. While regular tanning or getting several bad burns when you’re young raises your risk of skin cancer, Moy says, what’s critical is that you put on sunscreen these days.

“Since skin’s ability to repair itself decreases with age, your risk is even greater if you burn now.”

Good thing you’re using it!

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad: Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minute; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: by Beth James (updated 23 June 2014)

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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