Stephanie Smith Cooney, Pharm.D.
Summer days hopefully mean lots of sunshine. But as the old saying goes, “too much of a good thing”….can mean…sunburn. Or even skin cancer. Most people, according to a recent survey, buy sunscreen and use it to do just this-prevent sunburn and skin cancer. Most of us assume that the higher the SPF, the better the protection, but there’s a big detail we may not be paying attention to. While the SPF, or sun protection factor, of a sunscreen product is important, of equal, or even greater importance is the protection the product provides. Broad-spectrum protection means the product protects against UV-A and UV-B radiation , both which can cause skin cancer. While sunscreen labeling can often be confusing, focus on two things: the SPF of the product and that it is broad-spectrum. A high SPF sunscreen is not useful if it doesn’t have broad-spectrum protection.
Sunscreens work by absorbing and/or reflecting UVA and UVB rays. Because there are multiple ingredients that do these jobs, if one product isn’t tolerated, it is best to try another option or contact your health professional for assistance. There is much confusion about SPF and what it means. Be sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is at least 15 SPF. A common misconception is that 30 SPF products provide double the protection of 15 SPF. Instead, while a 15 SPF product may protect from 93% of UVB radiation, a 30 SPF product could provide 97% protection, when used properly, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Wearing sunscreen is an excellent way to lower your skin cancer risk, but that alone isn’t enough. Staying inside during the peak hours of the day, typically between 10am and 4pm, is advised, as is covering up when in the sun. Don’t forget eye protection too, ensuring that your sunglasses provide UV-A and UV-B protection. Importantly, avoid indoor tanning. While we think of summertime as the most important for sun protection, sun damage can happen at anytime of year, and without exposure to direct sunlight. Excess sun exposure happens on cloudy days too.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, and melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer. Scarier yet, the rates of melanoma have doubled over the last 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most skin cancers (over 90%) are caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, which causes skin cell damage. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your risk for skin cancer and consider preventative screening. Most importantly, protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. Afterall, fair is the new tan. Have a wonderful summer!
The Gatti Blog
Information, tips and more from the Gatti Pharmacists and staff.