Every season should be sunscreen season, according to Dr. Marta Hampton, a Roper St. Francis Healthcare-affiliated dermatologist. “Wearing sunscreen is the number one way to protect against skin cancer,” says Dr. Hampton, and given that one person dies of melanoma every hour in the U.S., that’s advice worth heeding. Ideally, use an SPF of 30 or higher, she suggests, and be sure to check the expiration date on the bottle. Read on for other skin protecting, lifesaving tips from Dr. Hampton and the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Buy broad-spectrum. A sunscreen labeled “broad-spectrum” means the sunscreen shields against both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, which damage the skin in different ways. UVB rays cause sunburn while UVA leads to wrinkles and pigmentation changes (both can result in skin cancer).
Know the numbers. According to the AAD, SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent. Experts recommend using SPF 30 or higher, but note that no sunscreen can filter out the sun’s rays completely. Seek shade or wear protective clothing for extra defense.
Don’t skimp. Reapply often. Be sure to use enough—if in lotion form, a dollop the size of a quarter—or a full spray coverage. And the AAD suggests doing so every two hours, after toweling off, when sweating, and after swimming. If it is labeled “water-resistant” or “very water-resistant,” that means it protects the skin during 40 minutes of sweating or swimming; the latter provides 80 minutes worth of protection.
Save your skin, and coral reefs too. Scientists have found that a common chemical in sunscreen, oxybenzone, is toxic to coral reefs (already threatened by warming ocean temperatures). Whenever possible, choose mineral-based and biodegradable zinc oxide sunscreens.
And if you do get sunburn, over-the-counter treatments like aloe vera can help ease the pain, but if your burn turns into any of the following, see your doctor:
- Blisters cover a large portion of the body
- The sunburn is accompanied by a high fever, extreme pain, confusion, headache, nausea or chills
- Signs of infection are present (these include increasing pain, swelling and yellow drainage)
- At-home treatments do not help relieve pain.