sunscreen, sunscreen protection

Going Outside? Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

June 23, 2010 07:30 AM
by Lindsey Chapman
With lots of travel during fourth of july weekend, physicians are spreading the word about the importance of sunscreen and sun safety practices.

Who wears sunscreen?

Even though sunscreen can be a helpful tool in preventing skin cancer, a survey from the Consumer Reports National Research Center has found that 31 percent of Americans don’t use sunscreen, and 69 percent use it intermittently, according to ABC News.

More than one million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States, and in many instances, the problem is related to sun exposure.

“It's very frustrating ... We have the information and we know what to do and people are not improving their behavior,” dermatologist Doris Day said.

To obtain the maximum benefits of sunscreen, it needs to be used the right way. Dr. Day told ABC News that people should apply an ounce of sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher, and reapply it each hour. (An ounce of sunscreen would fill a shot glass, the Houston Chronicle noted.)

“You need to go through sunscreen," Day noted. "One bottle should not last a summer.” Remember, too, that sunscreen can take up to 30 minutes to work, so it should be applied before you head outdoors.

The Houston Chronicle says finding the right sunscreen protection is “a numbers game,” and people need to understand what SPF actually means. It does not refer to how long you can stay out in the sun wearing a certain sunscreen; rather it relates to how effectively it blocks the sun’s rays
Dennis Hughes, a pediatric oncologist for the Children’s Cancer Hospital at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, described the SPF factor as “X times more coverage than no sunscreen at all.” Sunscreen with SPF 15 will block approximately 93 percent of the sun’s harmful rays, and SPF 30 handles approximately 97 percent.

In addition to sunscreen, people can also protect their skin by wearing a hat, sunglasses and long sleeves, as well as using moisturizers and soaps with SPF.

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Opinion and Analysis: Why are people skipping sunscreen?

Participants in the Consumer Reports survey cited a few reasons they passed on the sunscreen when going outdoors, including skin irritations, getting the sunscreen in their eyes and the cost of buying the products.

U.S. News & World Report searched for potential solutions to these problems. Addressing the cost issue, Jennifer Stein, a dermatologist at New York University’s Lagone Medical Center, said cheap sunscreens are just as good as more expensive brands, as long as they are at least SPF 15 and block UVA and UVB rays.

Lotions with “for sensitive skin” on the label, or moisturizers with sunscreen may also be easier on the eye area, Stein advised. Carol Drucker, an associate professor at M.D. Anderson’s dermatology department, suggested to the Houston Chronicle that people should try using lip balm with SPF protection in the area around the eyes, as it is less likely to run.

Concerns that sunscreen use could negatively affect a person’s vitamin D intake are not warranted, Dr. Michele McDonald told ABC News. “If you're out and you're getting sun, you're getting vitamin D," McDonald explained. “After 30 to 40 minutes, it's getting through [sunscreen].”

Key Players: UVA and UVB rays

The Skin Cancer Foundation describes ultraviolet radiation as “part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun.” Because they have different wavelengths, UV rays are labeled as UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVC rays are short and absorbed by the ozone layer. However, UVA and UVB rays aren’t stopped by ozone, and both play a role in causing eye damage and skin cancer. Most of the radiation we experience comes from UVA, “the dominant tanning ray,” while UVB rays are the primary culprit in sunburns.

Related Topic: Sunscreen labels

By the end of the year, the Food and Drug Administration will try to finalize rules about the claims sunscreen producers can make on their product labels. SPF numbers will no longer be allowed to exceed 50, and terms like “waterproof,” “sunblock,” and “all-day protection” must be avoided. New labels will also have to include information about the amount of UVA protection the product provides.

“No product can completely block out the rays from the sun and no product is completely waterproof,” Rita Chappelle of the FDA said in a WebMD article. The agency actually suggested a “standardized UVA rating system” ten years ago, but officials differed on how to create one.

Now, a sun simulator will be used to try products in lab and skin tests. Several companies have said they will agree to the new label changes.

Reference: Skin Cancer


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