Sunscreen is an important tool for protecting skin against damage and skin cancer. One out of every five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer at some point in their life. Using sunscreen when outdoors at the beach, on the golf course or even in the car can reduce the risk of this serious disease.

Why Use Sunscreen?

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends every individual, over the age of 6 months, should use sunscreen daily if they’re in the sun for longer than 20 minutes. (Babies under 6 months of age should be kept in the shade or shielded from the sun since they are at greater risk of developing side effects from sunscreens).

Sunscreens contain ingredients that prevent the sun’s ultraviolet radiation from damaging the skin. Both UVA and UVB can lead to skin damage. UVA radiation is linked to wrinkles, sagging and leathery skin, while exposure to UVB rays increases the risk of skin cancer.

Understanding SPF

A good broad-spectrum sunscreen protects the skin against both UVA and UVB rays but sunscreen is measured by its ability to prevent UVB damage to the skin. The Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, of a specific sunscreen will help you determine the effectiveness of the product.

Redness develops on unprotected skin after 20 minutes of sun exposure. Sunscreen with an SPF of 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of the damaging rays. That means skin covered with an SPF 15 sunscreen will avoid turning red 15 times longer (about 5 hours) than unprotected skin.

The SPF can also tell you the percentage of UV rays blocked by a particular sunscreen. Products with an SPF of 30 block about 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 sunscreens protect against approximately 98 percent of ultraviolet radiation.

Applying Sunscreen

Even the best sunscreen won’t work unless it’s applied correctly. For best results dermatologists recommend:

  • Using the right amount – for effective coverage, use one ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glassful)
  • Applying sunscreen ahead of time – sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure
  • Reapplying often – follow the same application steps every 2 hours and after swimming, toweling off or perspiring heavily
  • Wearing sunscreen on cloudy days – don’t save sunscreen for sunny days. Approximately 40 percent of UV rays pass through even intense cloudiness

Treatment of skin cancer is much more effective when found in the early stages. Use sunscreen daily and if you notice changes in moles or skin lesions that itch, bleed or don’t go away, visit your dermatologist.

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