Research shows that most skin cancers are related to sun exposure. Even with increased education and increased sunscreen use by the general public, skin cancer rates continue to rise.   According to a May, 2013, article in the New York Times, melanoma diagnoses have risen nearly 2 percent a year since 2000, and are increasing even more among young white women.  Why?  Some experts blame incorrect sunscreen use, such as not applying enough or not applying frequently enough. There is another concern, however.   Most sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, or SPF, were designed primarily to protect from the sun’s ultraviolet B rays, the main cause of sunburn. These sunscreens have allowed users to stay out longer but did not necessarily protect them from ultraviolet A rays. These are the rays that are associated with aging and skin damage, but that are also now being connected to skin cancer.

The latest advice recommends that people limit time in the sun, especially during the mid-day hours of 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  In addition to limiting sun exposure, experts advise protecting yourself with hats and cover-ups, in addition to the use of sunscreen.  According to the New York Times article:

“Sunscreen is not a magic bullet,” said Dr. Steven Q. Wang, director of dermatologic surgery and dermatology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Basking Ridge, N.J. “It’s just one of the defenses against the harmful effect of UV radiation, and that message gets lost.”

Be sure to read the label of any sunscreen you buy.  “Broad spectrum protection”  means the sunscreen has been proved to protect against both UVA and UVB rays, although UVA protection may be somewhat weaker.  Any product with an SPF lower than 15 must also carry a warning stating that it will not protect against skin cancer.

Here are some guidelines for protecting yourself against the harmful effects of the sun while enjoying the outdoors year-round.

  • Get into the habit of wearing sunscreen daily.  The sun is now recognized to be the primary cause of skin aging.  Winter, summer and even overcast days call for sunscreen, as the sun’s UV light can and does get through on cloudy days. In fact, some UV rays can penetrate through glass, so you need to apply protection even when indoors or driving.  It all counts.
  • Be sure to read labels and choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which blocks both UVA and UVB rays, with an SPF of at least 30.
  • Babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of the sun completely, as their skin is especially sensitive. When outdoors, keep them covered and in the shade.  Sunscreen should not be applied on infants.
  • Try to keep older children inside when the sun’s rays are strongest, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.  According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a bad sunburn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma later in life.
  • Look for products that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as active ingredients.  These actually form a physical barrier to the sun’s rays, although they may leave a whitish residue on skin.
  • Finally, be sure that you are applying enough sunscreen and re-applying it every two hours when outdoors. How much is enough? It takes 1 ounce of sunscreen, which is enough to fill a shot glass, to protect your body properly.   And don’t forget less obvious areas, such as hands, feet and neck, where skin is thinner and even more vulnerable to the sun’s rays.

By following these guidelines, and using a little common-sense, you don’t have to curtail your outdoor activities, whether you’re on the beach or on the slopes.   Enjoy the outdoors!