Friday, June 11, 2010

Always Use Protection

Photo Credit: Fatinha Santos*

A few summers ago I went to the beach with my friends and after we went swimming, I fell asleep on my stomach for an hour and a half. When I woke up, I was noticeably red and realized I had forgotten to reapply sunscreen on my legs. I used an after-sun aloe gel a few times a day, but four days later—right when I was expecting my burn to start to dissipate—I woke up to find the backs of my legs covered in blisters. I had gotten a second degree burn from an hour and a half in the sun unprotected.

This experience is particularly distressing for me, knowing that according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence, or five sunburns total over the course of one’s life, more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.” For the fair-skinned of us, it is not uncommon to meet this criterion. It may also be why skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. today.

June is ‘Cancer from the Sun’ month. With the official start of summer just around the corner, there isn’t a better time to talk about how to protect yourself from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

The most commonly used protection is sunscreen. But many who wear sunscreen wonder what an SPF number really means. Does it even matter?

It does. Research has shown that higher SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is different. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 protects against 97% and SPF 50 against 98%. Though these changes might seem slight, it can mean the difference between burning or not with prolonged exposure. In addition to protection against the UVB rays that mutate DNA and burn skin, make sure your sunscreen protects against the UVA rays that create free radicals and age skin.

Not sure which products are best at protecting against the sun’s UV rays? Here’s the Skin Cancer Foundation’s list of products that get its Seal of Protection.

And don’t think getting a tan inside is any better. It’s actually much worse.

Even just one forgetful day in the sun can be irrevocably damaging to your skin, and 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. Let’s to try to change that troubling statistic by grabbing the sunscreen, and heading on out to enjoy the summer.

*Can you tell which one is me? With all the protective sun gear? Smith Crew Spring Break, on the lake where the '96 Olympics rowing was held, Gainesville, GA, March 2010

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  1. Interesting article--I really didn't understand the significant difference between two SPF numbers, other than knowing higher was better. :-)

  2. Great article...I hope you wear plenty of sunscreen at all times now:)