It does not have to be that way, according to Mary E. Shepherd, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) Medical School. The UTHealth Department of Dermatology is a joint program with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“A sunburn is serious because the skin has a long memory and it never forgets that it was injured,” Shepherd said. “Studies have shown that children who have had sunburns have a higher risk of skin cancer.”
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), everyone should wear sunscreen as exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the most preventable cause of skin cancer. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in more than 2 million people are diagnosed annually.
A national online survey found most adults – 70 percent – do not use sunscreen on an average day and that nearly one-fourth of respondents do not typically reapply sunscreen when outside for a long duration. More than 7,000 respondents completed the 2010 survey.
There are a wide variety of sunscreens that will help protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet rays (UV) that can contribute to early skin aging and even cancer. Since sunscreen does not offer complete protection from the sun’s damaging UV rays, it is also important to limit sun exposure, seek shade and wear protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.
On June 14, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced changes in the labeling of sunscreen to help consumers make informed decisions about buying and using sunscreen products. While these changes go into effect in the summer of 2012, here are tips from Shepherd that you can use now to help you select the sunscreen that is best for you.
- Choose a sunscreen that offers UV protection and is water resistant. Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin, including the face, ears, hands and arms. “Broad-spectrum” provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Reapply every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Men with thinning or no hair, do not forget to apply sunscreen to your scalp.
- Choose the form of sun protection you like. You can select from creams, gels, sprays, wax sticks and ointments. Since you are more likely to use the one you like best, stick to that.
- Apply before you go outside. Sunscreens should be applied to dry skin 15 minutes BEFORE going outdoors. Coat the skin liberally and rub it in thoroughly. Most people apply only 25-50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. One ounce, enough to fill a shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body properly.
- Look for an expiration date. Unless indicated by an expiration date, the FDA requires that all sunscreens be stable and at their original strength for at least three years. While you can use the sunscreen that you bought last summer, keep in mind that if you are using the appropriate amount, a bottle of sunscreen should not last very long.
- Protect your lips, too. Do not forget that lips get sunburned too, so apply a lip balm that contains a SPF of 30 or higher.
In addition to protecting your skin from UV damage, it is important to examine your skin regularly for changes in its appearance, Shepherd said. Patients with risk factors, such as fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, should have a complete skin examination by a dermatologist annually. To assess skin cancer risk factors, take this quiz offered by HealthLeader, UTHealth’s online wellness magazine.
Anyone with a changing, suspicious or unusual mole or blemish should be examined as soon as possible. Individuals with a history of melanoma should have a full-body exam at least annually and perform monthly self-exams for new and changing moles. Visit the Department of Dermatology’s Resources page for more information to help identify skin cancer and conduct skin self-exams.
Since sun exposure produces vitamin D in the skin, wearing sunscreen will decrease the skin’s production of vitamin D. Individuals who wear sunscreen and are concerned that they are not getting enough vitamin D should discuss their options for obtaining sufficient vitamin D from foods and/or vitamin supplements with their doctor.
Have a great Independence Day and pass the sunscreen!
Shepherd and other dermatologists on the UTHealth faculty see patients in the UT Physicians dermatology clinics at 6655 Travis, Suite 600, and 6700 West Loop South, Suite 520. Appointments can be made by calling 713-500-8260 or 713-572-8122.
Media Hotline: 713-500-3030