UV Safety Month
The American Academy of Dermatology offers a wealth of information on sunscreen and sun safety.
Who needs sunscreen?
Everyone. Sunscreen use can help prevent skin cancer by protecting you from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender or race.
What sunscreen should I use?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:
Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
SPF 30 or higher
A sunscreen that offers the above helps to protect your skin from sunburn, early skin aging and skin cancer. However, sunscreen alone cannot fully protect you. In addition to wearing sunscreen, dermatologists recommend taking the following steps to protect your skin and find skin cancer early:
Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
Dress to protect yourself from the sun by wearing a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, when possible.
Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tan, you may wish to use a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
Check your birthday suit on your birthday. If you notice anything changing, itching or bleeding on your skin, see a board-certified dermatologist. Skin cancer is highly treatable when caught early.
When should I use sunscreen?
Every day if you will be outside. The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.
Snow, sand, and water increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays.
How often should I apply it?
Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin.
Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head. Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors.
To protect your lips, apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
When outdoors, reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.
Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. What is the
difference between the rays?
Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth — UVA rays and UVB rays. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer. In addition to causing skin cancer, here’s what each of these rays do:
UVA rays (or aging rays) can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots, and can pass through window glass.
UVB rays (or burning rays) are the primary cause of sunburn and are blocked by window glass.
Is a high-number SPF better than a low-number one?
Dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays.
How can I protect my baby or toddler from the sun?
Ideally, parents should avoid exposing babies younger than 6 months to the sun’s rays. The best way to protect infants from the sun is to keep them in the shade as much as possible, in addition to dressing them in long sleeves, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Make sure they do not get overheated and that they drink plenty of fluids. If your baby is fussy, crying excessively or has redness on any exposed skin, take him or her indoors. Sunscreen use should be avoided if possible in babies younger than 6 months.
Who regulates sunscreens?
Sunscreen products are regulated as over-the-counter drugs by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has several safety and effectiveness regulations in place that govern the manufacture and marketing of all sunscreen products, including safety data on its ingredients.
How do FDA sunscreen guidelines affect my sunscreen?
Thanks to the FDA, sunscreen labels provide you with important information about what type of UV protection a sunscreen offers and what a sunscreen can do.
On the label, you’ll see whether the sunscreen:
Is Broad Spectrum, which means the sunscreen protects against UVB and UVA rays and helps prevent skin cancer and sunburn.
Has an SPF of 30 or higher. While SPF 15 is the FDA's minimum recommendation for protection against skin cancer and sunburn, the AAD recommends choosing a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
Has a Skin Cancer/Skin Aging Alert in the Drug Facts section of the label, which means the sunscreen will only prevent sunburn and will not reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging
Is Water Resistant (effective for up to 40 minutes in water) or Very Water Resistant (effective for up to 80 minutes in water). This means the sunscreen provides protection while swimming or sweating up to the time listed on the label:
- Sunscreen manufacturers are banned from claiming that a sunscreen is "waterproof" or "sweat proof," as the FDA has determined that those terms are misleading. - Even when using a water-resistant sunscreen, you should reapply after getting out of the water or sweating.
Are spray sunscreens safe?
The FDA continues to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of spray sunscreens. The challenge in using sprays is that it is difficult to know if you have used enough sunscreen to cover all sun-exposed areas of the body, which may result in inadequate coverage. When using spray sunscreen, make sure to spray an adequate amount and rub it in to ensure even coverage.
To avoid inhaling spray sunscreen, never spray it around or near the face or mouth. Spraying the sunscreen into your hands and then applying it can help you avoid inhalation while also ensuring adequate coverage. When applying spray sunscreens on children, be aware of the direction of the wind to avoid inhalation.
How do I treat a sunburn?
It’s important to begin treating a sunburn as soon as possible. In addition to stopping further UV exposure, dermatologists recommend treating a sunburn with:
Cool baths to reduce the heat.
Moisturizer to help ease the discomfort caused by dryness. As soon as you get out of the bathtub, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then apply a moisturizer to trap the water in your skin.
Hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription to help ease discomfort.
Aspirin or ibuprofen. This can help reduce the swelling, redness and discomfort.
Drinking extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water prevents dehydration.
Do not treat sunburns with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine).
If your skin blisters, you have a second-degree sunburn. Dermatologists recommend that you:
Allow the blisters to heal untouched. Blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
If the blisters cover a large area, such as the entire back, or you have chills, a headache or a fever, seek immediate medical care.
With any sunburn, you should avoid the sun while your skin heals. Be sure to cover the sunburn every time you head outdoors.
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