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Protect yourself from harmful summer sun

Published: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 11:26 a.m. CST

Summer is upon us, and with the change of the season comes more time outdoors, under the warm, and often harmful, rays of the summer sun. Protection is essential, and a new study has revealed an alarming rise in melanoma among people aged 18 to 39: over the past 40 years, rates of this potentially deadly skin cancer grew by 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young men.

Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin, age it prematurely, and increase your risk of skin cancer. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of aging. They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and increasingly are being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own.

Your best bet to avoid the harm while still enjoying the weather is sunscreen, experts say.

Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin. But they vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB. Sun Protection Factor – or SPF – is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer — about five hours. Most sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job of protecting against UVB, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. They may seem like negligible differences, but if you are light-sensitive, or have a history of skin cancer, those extra percentages will make a difference. And no sunscreen can block all UV rays.

So which sunscreen do you choose? The answer depends on how much sun exposure you’re anticipating. In all cases the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen offering protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

•    Buy a high-quality product with an SPF of 15 or higher; check its ingredients to make sure it offers broad-spectrum protection; and decide whether it works better for everyday incidental use or extended outdoor use. •    Look for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, which guarantees that a sunscreen product meets the highest standards for safety and effectiveness. •    Apply one ounce of sunscreen – about a shot glass full.  Studies show that most people apply only half to a quarter of that amount, which means the actual SPF they have on their body is lower than advertised, experts say. •    During a long day at the beach, one person should use around one half to one quarter of an 8 oz. bottle. Sunscreens should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to the skin. Reapplication of sunscreen is just as important as putting it on in the first place, so reapply the same amount every two hours. Sunscreens should also be reapplied immediately after swimming, toweling off, or sweating a great deal.

Sun protection is essential to skin cancer prevention – about 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun, according the www.skincancer.org. Most recently, in a rigorous study of more than 1,600 adults over the course of a decade, researchers determined that subjects applying sunscreen with an SPF of 16 daily reduced their risk of melanoma by 50 percent.

But remember, you should not rely on sunscreen alone to protect your skin against UV rays; it is just one vital part of a complete sun protection program. The Skin Cancer Foundation has always recommended a complete sun protection regimen that includes not only sunscreen use, but also seeking shade, covering up with clothing including a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.

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