Sunscreen safety just in time for summer

The summer sunshine is coming and you know what that means: longer days, beaches and sunscreen.

While we may only think about applying sunscreen at the beach or when we are outdoors for a long time, it is important to know that sunscreen is a surefire way to prevent damage to your skin.

How does sunscreen work?

Sunscreens is made from a mixture of ingredients and is applied on the skin to block ultraviolet (UV) rays that are emitted by the sun. Sunscreen has both inorganic and organic ingredients. The inorganic ingredients, like zinc oxide, form a physical barrier between you and the damaging UV rays. The organic chemicals absorb the rays that make it past the physical barrier and release that energy as heat.

Sunscreen, UV rays, and skin cancer

So what does UV radiation do? It can damage the DNA within skin cells, and if the body fails to repair these cells, it can result in mutations and cancerous growths. Unfortunately, the Skin Cancer Foundation reports that melanoma leads to approximately 10,310 deaths annually.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says that UVA and UVB radiation can increase the risk of skin cancer and milder conditions like sunburn or aging effects to the skin. UVA rays are larger and tend to affect deeper levels of the skin, while UVB rays are typically the cause of surface damage.

When most think about skin cancer, melanoma comes to mind. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that this variant of cancer is the most lethal of those that affect the skin. It also reports that exposure to UV radiation from the sun or from tanning beds are common causes. Perhaps it is worth it to forget about that tan after all! While melanoma is treatable if caught in its early stages, it can spread to other parts of the body, increasing its lethality.

There are multiple types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common form of skin cancer and of all cancers. While it is not as lethal as melanoma, it is still better to avoid it to the best of our abilities. Basal cell carcinoma rarely spread to other areas, but it is possible. It can also lead to disfigurement of the affected area if left untreated.

On the plus side, prevention methods are available on store shelves. Important details to take note of with sunscreen is the sun protection factor (SPF) and whether it blocks both forms of UV radiation.

What do SPF numbers mean?

When you pick up a bottle or tube of sunscreen, it will have an SPF number. SPF stands for sun protection factor, which indicates the factor of time a sunscreen will prevent the skin from reddening in the sun. The Skin Cancer Foundation reports that unprotected skin can be sunburned in about 20 minutes. So a sunscreen with SPF 15 would lengthen that by 15 times, providing about 5 hours of protection.

It is recommended that anyone over the age of 6 months use broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both forms of UV radiation. While the Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using SPF 30 or higher, the strength of SPF can be dependent on how much time is spent outside. It is important to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming. For those who work outside or will be in water, a waterproof sunscreen is recommended.

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