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George K. Verghese, MD
Sunscreen 101
Mid-Atlantic Skin Surgery Institute
. https://midatlanticskinsurgery.com/

Sunscreen 101

The summertime brings long days by the pool, holiday cookouts and maybe even a family vacation. It may feel like the most carefree season, but there should be one very important task on your to-do list: apply sunscreen.

Sunscreen can protect your skin against skin cancer, which is the most common of all cancers. Excessive sun exposure and severe sunburns are two factors that can increase your risk. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell skin cancer, squamous cell skin cancer and melanoma.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers tend to develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin, including the face, ears, neck, lips and hands. Both of these cancers can be cured if they are found early, before they have spread.

Melanoma is a more dangerous type of cancer that begins in the melanocytes (cells that produce the skin pigment melanin, which helps protect deeper layers of skin from the sun). Melanoma is treatable in its early stages, but it is dangerous because it is very likely to grow and spread quickly to areas where it can be hard to treat.

If you’re going to be outside, one of the best ways to reduce your risk of skin cancer is to apply sunscreen regularly and properly. If sunscreen is not applied correctly, it will be significantly less effective.

Look for a water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher that offers broad-spectrum protection (meaning it protects against UVA and UVB rays). Also be sure to use a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15.

Apply sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outside. It takes about this long for the sunscreen to absorb into your skin and take effect. Don’t wait until you’re outside to apply, or you risk getting burned.

Many people aren’t using as much sunscreen as they should be. Adults need at least one ounce, or approximately a palmful. Make sure to cover all exposed skin, including your neck, ears, and the tops of your feet. If you have a receding hairline or thinning hair, apply sunscreen to your scalp or wear a hat.

Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin, and reapply often – either every two hours or after swimming, sweating or using a towel to dry off.

Wearing sunscreen doesn’t protect against all UV rays, so you should still limit your sun exposure when you can. It’s also important to wear sunscreen on overcast days because UV rays can travel through clouds.

If applied properly and often, sunscreen is a very effective way to prevent sunburn and reduce your risk of skin cancer.

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