Did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States? According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Each year, there are more new cases of skin cancer than of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined.
The good news is that using sun protection every day, even when it's cloudy or cold outside, can help reduce your risk of developing this widespread disease. Here's what you need to know to keep your skin protected.
1. Everyone needs sunscreen. Everyone should wear sunscreen every day, even if you spend most of your time indoors. The only exceptions to this rule are babies under six months, who should be kept out of direct sunlight.
2. You may be using sunscreen already. Many aftershave balms and lotions, moisturizers, foundations, and powders contain sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher. A broad-spectrum sunscreen (meaning it protects your skin from damaging UVA and UVB rays) with an SPF of 15 is adequate for most people who are exposed to the sun occasionally throughout the day.
3. You may need a higher SPF. If you have fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, a medical condition that makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight, or if you work or spend most of your day outside, you should consider using a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
4. Once is not enough. You need to reapply sunscreen about every two hours, or more frequently if you are swimming or doing an activity or sport where you perspire heavily.
5. You may need to go water-resistant. Water-resistant sunscreens are stickier and bond to your skin better than other sunscreens, which helps prevent them from dripping into your eyes, making them ideal for sports, swimming, and other activities that make you sweat.
6. You need more than you think. You need to apply at least an ounce of sunscreen (or a golf ball-sized amount) to your body about 30 minutes before sun exposure.
7. You need to use sun protection everywhere your skin is exposed. Don't skimp on your lips, the tips of your ears, hands, backs of your legs, tops of your feet, or your scalp.
8. It doesn't last forever. Sunscreen loses its potency over time, so bottles should be replaced after a year or two. Some sunscreens come with an expiration date after which the sunscreen is no longer effective; before using last year's sunscreen, be sure to check the expiration date.
9. Sunscreen alone is not enough. While sunscreen should be an integral part of your sun protection regimen, it can't block all rays all the time. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can give you added protection. Though it may seem counterintuitive, it's also a good idea to wear more clothes when you're exposed to direct sunlight. Try to cover as much of your skin as is comfortable with garments made from tightly woven material or sun protective fabric.
By Joelle Klein
Skin Cancer Foundation, Skin Cancer Facts and Statistics
American Academy of Dermatology, Sunscreen 101
Skin Cancer Foundation, Sunscreens Explained
US Food & Drug Administration, Tips to Stay Safe in the Sun
WebMD, What's the Best Sunscreen?
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself From Sun Exposure