What To Remember About Skincare During Skin Cancer Awareness Month
Guest Post By: Dr. Alan J. Parks, founder of Eastside Dermatology & DermWarehouse
May is not only the beginning of the summer, it’s also Skin Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon combined. Not only that, the large majority of melanomas are caused by the sun. There are so many things you can be doing to protect your skin this summer (and in general). In the spirit of increasing your knowledge and awareness about skin cancer and melanoma, I wanted to share some information about one of the best protectors from the sun and from skin cancer: sunscreen. In my 30 years of practicing dermatology, I’ve come across countless patients who don’t know how to choose the right sunscreen and don’t realize how important it is not only to pick a good one, but to apply it correctly and consistently.
SPF, or solar protection factor, is the number that tells you how long you can stay in the sun safely before burning. The number indicates how well the sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s UVB rays, which are what cause sunburn. Many people don’t realize this, but SPF does not protect you against UVA rays which cause photoaging and can also lead to skin cancer. The only sunscreens that will protect against both UVA and UVB rays are ones that say they are “broad spectrum.”
Typically, the lighter hair and skin a person has, the more sensitive their skin will be to the sun. This means that people with lighter skin should wear a higher SPF. I like to recommend that my patients wear SPF 30 or higher at all times, and those with very light/fair skin and hair should stick to SPF 50.
You should also check your sunscreen bottle for whether it contains zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. These two ingredients provide stronger sun protection and won’t break down in the sun. Zinc oxide offers great protection from UVA rays. Titanium dioxide is not as strong, but still stronger than many other ingredients. Years ago, I used to make my children wear zinc oxide when spending time at the beach or pool and back then, it was the type that spread on as a thick white (or other color) paste. My kids hated it at the time but they rarely ever came home with a sunburn. These days, many skin care companies put zinc into their products and it will rub in very nicely, just as a regular sunscreen would. It’s a great ingredient to look out for in your sunscreen to give you some extra protection.
Now that you’re a little more informed about sunscreen itself, there are also several things to remember when applying your sunscreen. First, don’t be stingy. You want to make sure you’re covering your whole body, and with a generous amount. Don’t forget your hands, feet, neck, and ears as well. Make sure you’re applying your sunscreen 30 minutes before you head out and reapplying every hour and a half to two hours. You can apply even more frequently if you’re sweating a lot or you’re in the water.
Be wary of “waterproof” sunscreen. While a sunscreen that says its waterproof may hold up a little better in the water, no sunscreen is truly waterproof. Whenever you go swimming you should always remember to reapply once you get out of the water.
Finally, many women think that wearing a makeup or lotion containing SPF is enough to do the trick, however, this is not the case. While this is a little bit of great extra protection, don’t think that this means you can skip the sunscreen. The SPF in makeup or other beauty products is generally not strong enough to protect your skin.
Wearing sunscreen on a daily basis is one of the best habits you can get into. Many of my older patients at both my practice and now at DermWarehouse tell me that one of their biggest regrets is not having paid more attention to their daily sun protection habits when they were younger. While it’s great to apply sunscreen for a day outside or at the beach, keep in mind that your skin can be damaged by the sun any time you’re exposed – running in and out of your car while running errands, walking to work, walking the dog, etc. So, get in the habit of putting on sunscreen as part of your morning routine every single day – this way, you’re always safe. Not only will you be protecting yourself against prematurely aging skin, you’ll also be protecting yourself against skin cancer. Do yourself a favor and make this the very last Skin Cancer Awareness Month where you need to be reminded about how important sun protection and wearing sunscreen really is.