Using sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing are all important ways you can reduce your risk of skin cancer. But before you pick up that bottle of sunscreen, be sure to read the label to make sure your skin gets the care it needs.

Your Health | 3 months ago

Apply the Best Sunscreen Habits This Summer

Using sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing are all important ways you can reduce your risk of skin cancer. But before you pick up that bottle of sunscreen, be sure to read the label to make sure your skin gets the care it needs.

The summer months bring with them a flurry of outdoor activity – and with that comes increased sun exposure. That’s why no trip outside is complete without the application of sunscreen beforehand.

But it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many sunscreen options, with their array of special features – from sport to sweatproof – as well as their ingredients. We talked to Laura McGirt, MD, a dermatologic oncologist at Atrium Health’s Levine Cancer Institute, to get some information and tips on the best practices for sunscreen application.

Be label conscious

Before you apply sunscreen, check the label to ensure the protection you’ve chosen will be effective. “Looking for a sunscreen that is the right SPF and is labeled as broad-spectrum is important,” says Dr. McGirt.

And be careful when purchasing sunscreen that claims to be waterproof or sweatproof. “The concept of waterproof or sweatproof isn’t accurate,” Dr. McGirt adds. “The sunscreen should specifically indicate the amount of time that it will still be effective while sweating or in the water.”

Wear the right SPF

SPF, or sun protection factor, tells you what percentage of the sun’s ultraviolet B light the sunscreen is capable of blocking. Some people may need a higher SPF, but Dr. McGirt recommends that everyone wears an SPF of at least 30 – and even higher for children and infants.

“Children can have more sensitive skin,” explains Dr. McGirt. “Because of that, you’ll often find the physical or mineral blockers such as titanium oxide and zinc oxide in sunscreens marketed for babies and children.”

Is sunscreen safe?

Sunscreen labels are full of intimidating chemical names, and Dr. McGirt notes that there has been an ongoing debate in the media regarding the potential risk of some of sunscreen’s chemical blockers, particularly oxybenzone.

But Dr. McGirt insists that shouldn’t stop you from using sunscreen. “According to the American Academy of Dermatology, there isn’t enough data to validate those concerns. But there is robust data demonstrating the risk of skin cancer with ultraviolet exposure, so the AAD continues to recommend broad-spectrum sunscreen utilizing either chemical, physical or mineral blockers with an SPF 30 or higher.”

Apply in rain or shine

Although we tend to think of sunscreen as something only needed on sunny days, this misconception can lead to some unpleasant sunburns. “The ultraviolet light from the sun is able to penetrate through clouds, so it’s important to wear sunscreen even on a cloudy day,” says Dr. McGirt. “Additionally, it’s important to remember that sunlight can reflect off of water and snow, so sunscreen is needed during activities such as boating and skiing.”

Sunscreen is for everyone

“Although we see higher rates of skin cancer in fair-skinned individuals, skin cancer can happen to anybody,” warns Dr. McGirt. “Because of this, everyone should use sunscreen to reduce the risks of ultraviolet damage to their skin.”

If you have sensitive skin, look for sunscreen containing either titanium and/or zinc oxide, and avoid any sunscreens with chemical photo blockers. And if you have acne-prone or oily skin, just check the label – there’s a sunscreen out there for all skin types.  

Quick Tips:

  • Make sure you apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure.
  • An average-sized adult generally needs a golf ball-sized amount of sunscreen to adequately cover their exposed skin. Not using enough sunscreen can lead to burns.
  • The label “broad-spectrum” indicates that a sunscreen blocks UVA light as well as UVB. This is important, as both UVA and UVB rays cause skin damage.
  • Spray sunscreens are as effective as lotion sunscreens, but Dr. McGirt warns that people can be careless when spraying and miss key areas. That’s why it’s important to rub in spray sunscreens after spraying to make sure you’re covered.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours – and more frequently if you’re sweating or in water.

 

Learn more about our skin cancer services at Levine Cancer Institute.