We’re in the heat of summer, and many people are rushing off to cool down in pools or nearby lakes. But before you seek relief from the heat, it’s important to first take the time to protect your skin. Below, Dr. Jennifer Malin, UnitedHealthcare’s senior medical director of oncology and genetics, sets the record straight on some common sun protection misunderstandings.
True or False? Your sunscreen should have UVA and UVB protection.
True: When walking down the sunscreen aisle, the choices can be overwhelming. Dr. Malin says, “Start by looking for a sunscreen that provides broad spectrum protection. That means it filters both types of ultraviolet radiation.” The Skin Cancer Foundation says that ultraviolet A rays are present all day and can cause skin-aging and wrinkling while ultraviolet B rays are strongest during peak hours (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and can cause sunburns. Both types have been linked to skin cancer.
True or False? One application of sunscreen lasts all day.
False: Sunscreen should be reapplied throughout the day and SPF, or sun protection factor, can help you know how often. Dr. Malin explains, “If you typically burn after 10 minutes in the sun, multiply that number by the SPF. For SPF 30, this would translate to 300 minutes, but the sunscreen will start to rub off before then. So, reapply often, at least every two hours.” Sunscreens should also be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off or excessive sweating.
True or False? You should use the highest SPF possible.
False: You may be surprised to learn that higher SPF does not always mean better protection. Dr. Malin says you may not need anything higher than SPF 30 if you’re applying generously and often. This is because, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, SPF 30 protects against 97 percent of the sun’s rays, while SPF 50 increases that just a bit – to 98 percent.
True or False? A little dab of sunscreen goes a long way.
False: To get a sunscreen’s full protection, you should consider applying about 2 tablespoonfuls or roughly a palmful. During a full day at the beach, a family of four should easily use an 8-ounce bottle. Sunscreen applied too lightly can reduce the effectiveness. A 30 SPF sunscreen can give as little protection as 5 SPF if applied too lightly.
True or False? You can get sun damage on a cloudy day.
True: One of the most common mistakes people make is forgetting about incidental sun exposure. Your skin is still soaking up UV rays even on cloudy days or while driving with the windows down. To help protect skin in such situations, Dr. Malin suggests making protection part of your normal routine. “Put sunscreen on first thing in the morning, even if you aren’t thinking about going outside – be consistent.”
True or False? Sunscreen is better than covering up.
False: While sunscreen is vital and should be used, Dr. Malin stresses the value of staying covered up. Wear lightweight, tightly-woven hats, shirts and pants. Combine sunscreen and sun-protective clothing for your strongest protection.
Knowing how to protect your skin from the sun may have a lasting impact. More people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined, and most skin cancer is associated with sun exposure.