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May 3, 2007

Sun Essentials

I'm BIG on using sunscreen. Too many people I know, including family have had skin cancer and melanoma.

Skin cancer has become a major public health problem in the United States. At the current rate, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Since overexposure to the sun is the primary cause, understanding the methods for protection and prevention of skin cancer are critically important.

A recent, widely-reported study, by a researcher at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, incorrectly claimed that sunscreens do not protect against skin cancer. Due to this misinformation, doctors across the country have received telephone calls from patients who are confused, or worse, feel they no longer need to use sunscreen.

How important is it for people to continue to use sunscreen? Consider this: If just 10 percent of Americans stop using sunscreen, there could be an additional one million cases of skin cancer expected in the next several decades. If parents stop putting sunscreen on their children, the number of new skin cancers could jump tens of millions in the next century.

Here are some frequently asked questions I thought I would share --

What does SPF stand for and what does it mean?

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. SPF value refers to a product’s ability to block the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. It is measured by the amount of solar energy necessary to cause a noticeable sunburn. This means that when you use products with a high SPF, more solar energy is required to induce sunburn than when you use a product with a low SPF.

What is the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

UVA and UVB rays are two types of ultraviolet radiation from the sun. UVA rays penetrate deeply into your skin and cause photodamage and skin aging. UVB rays are responsible for sunburn and are a major cause of skin cancers.

Do higher SPF values provide more protection?

Yes and no. Yes, because an SPF 30 product will provide about twice the UVB (sunburn) protection of an SPF 15 product. No, because it does NOT provide a corresponding amount of increased UVA protection. And remember, UVA radiation causes photodamage and skin aging. Higher SPF sunscreens should be used to avoid sunburn; however, they should not be used to prolong sun exposure.

If I apply an SPF 15 product and follow that with another SPF 15 product, will that give me an SPF of 30?

No, SPF values are not additive. If you use two SPF 15 products together, you get an SPF of 15. Remember that all sunscreen products should be applied liberally to obtain the labeled SPF value.

Is it true that regular use of sunscreens leads to decreased vitamin D levels causing osteoporosis and even cancer?

No, adequate vitamin D levels are easily maintained with a normal diet and minimal sun exposure.

What is the proper way to apply sunscreen?

Always follow the manufacturer’s directions. Most recommend applying a generous amount of product to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes before going outside to allow time for it to absorb into your skin. When applying it, pay particular attention to your face, ears, hands and arms, and generously coat the skin that is not covered by clothing. If you’re wearing insect repellant or makeup, you should apply sunscreen before those products.

Be generous. You should use about one ounce or a “palmful” of sunscreen to cover your arms, legs, neck and face. For best results, most sunscreens must be reapplied at least every one to three hours and even more often if you are swimming or perspiring. Remember that some sunscreen can rub off when you dry yourself with a towel.

What is the best way to take care of my skin after sun exposure?

Sun and wind can rob the skin of vital moisture. That why it’s important to replenish that moisture quickly.

Test Your Sun Smarts With Our Quick Quiz


Brian said...

Reducing risk of melanoma is important, but even if you avoid tanning many people are at high risk. The key is to discover suspicious skin lesions at an early stage while they are nearly 100% curable. Check moles for A)symmetry, for irregular B)orders, for multiple C)olors, for a D)iameter larger than a pencil eraser and for E)volution which is an enlarging or new mole. These are the ABCDE's for self-screening.

It is important to keep checking for new or changing moles, particularly if you are at risk. Those that have had a melanoma removed may be cured but they are at high risk for recurrence of new melanomas. If you have a lot of moles it is very hard (impossible really) to be able to tell if new or changing ones are present though.

DermAlert is an image comparison software program developed through funding from the National Cancer Institute that is inexpensive and lets you use your digital camera in the privacy of your own home to find changing moles over time. Then you can point out the changes to your dermatologist. You can see details and demo at

Mare said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mare said...

This is such important information for everyone. People are beginning to understand the issues of skin cancer, however, many believe that it won't happen to them.

Your information is so beneficial to everyone. More needs to be written about this topic, especially during the winter months when exposure is still dangerous.

Thank you for your detailed information and thank you Brian for your additional information.