With outdoor activities in full-swing this summer, it's important to remember to protect your skin. However, with all the sunscreen products on the market, it can be hard to know how to pick the right one. A new survey also shows that the public is confused about how to apply sunscreen correctly. Tips from a board-certified dermatologist can help clear up the confusion.
"Consumers can be overwhelmed by the large number of sunscreen products available and because of that they avoid using sunscreen all together, resulting in sunburn and overexposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation," said board-certified dermatologist Henry W. Lim, M.D., FAAD. "Dermatologists can provide the public with the information they need to make smart choices when it comes to sun protection, which can help reduce their risk for skin cancer, and keep their skin looking healthy and youthful."
When looking for a sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy) recommends that consumers:
Read the label on sunscreen products. Use only sunscreen that offers:
Broad-spectrum coverage (label may say "broad spectrum," "protects against UVA/UVB" or "UVA/UVB protection").
SPF 30 or higher.
Dermatologists also recommend that consumers:
Re-apply the sunscreen every two hours when outdoors.
Seek shade whenever your shadow appears to be shorter than you are.
Wear protective clothing, which includes long sleeves, pants, wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses.
A new online survey of adults nationwide by the Academy found that confusion still exists about SPF numbers and how to use sunscreens correctly.
Less than one in five respondents (18 percent) knew that a sunscreen with SPF 30 does not provide twice the protection as an SPF 15.
Among respondents who 'Sometimes' or 'Always' wear sunscreen to protect themselves from the sun, only 28 percent reapplied sunscreen at least every two hours.
Dr. Lim emphasized that UV protection does not increase proportionately with a designated SPF number. For example, an SPF 30 screens 97 percent of UV rays, while an SPF 15 screens 93 percent of UV rays and an SPF 2 screens out 50 percent of UV rays. However, not applying enough sunscreen or not covering all exposed areas may result in a lower SPF than the product contains. "For adequate protection, sunscreens are best applied 15 minutes prior to going outside, and re-applied every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating," said Dr. Lim. "Research demonstrates that most people only apply 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen, which is one ounce for the entire body or enough to fill a shot glass. The relationship between SPF and amount applied is not a linear one. For example, if only half the proper amount of SPF 15 is applied, the actual in-use SPF would be approximately 5, which is then inadequate protection."
To make it easier for consumers to make informed decisions about choosing sunscreens, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) new sunscreen rules will take effect in December. Manufacturers will be required to follow specific testing and labeling rules. Specifically, labels will detail whether the sunscreen provides broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVB and UVA rays); reduces the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging in addition to helping prevent sunburn, or just protects against sunburn alone; and is water-resistant up to 40 or 80 minutes.
"While the new labels are not required until the end of the year, it's still important for consumers to select and use sunscreen this summer to protect their skin from UV exposure," said Dr. Lim. "Making sun protection a habit - like brushing your teeth or buckling your seatbelt - can ultimately reduce early signs of aging and your risk for skin cancer."
SKIN CANCER FACTS:
More than 3.5 million skin cancer cases affecting 2 million people are diagnosed annually.
It is estimated that there will be about 131,810 new cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in 2012 - 55,560 noninvasive (in situ) and 76,250 invasive (44,250 men and 32,000 women).
The major risk factor for melanoma of the skin is exposure to ultraviolet light.
In 2010, new research found that daily sunscreen use cut the incidence of melanoma in half.
In an effort to increase the public's understanding of skin cancer and motivate people to change their behavior to prevent and detect skin cancer, the Academy recently launched the SPOT Skin Cancer(TM) public awareness initiative. Visit the SPOT Skin Cancer(TM) website - www.SpotSkinCancer.org - to learn how to perform a skin self-exam, download a body mole map for tracking changes on your skin, and find free skin cancer screenings in your area. Those affected by skin cancer also can share their story via the website and download free materials to educate others in their community.
Headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., the American Academy of Dermatology (Academy), founded in 1938, is the largest, most influential, and most representative of all dermatologic associations. With a membership of more than 17,000 physicians worldwide, the Academy is committed to: advancing the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of the skin, hair and nails; advocating high standards in clinical practice, education, and research in dermatology; and supporting and enhancing patient care for a lifetime of healthier skin, hair and nails. For more information, contact the Academy at 1-888-462-DERM (3376) or www.aad.org. Follow the Academy on Facebook (American Academy of Dermatology) or Twitter (@AADskin).
About the Academy's Survey
The survey was conducted by Relevant Research, Inc. of Chicago from December 29, 2011, to January 4, 2012. A total of 1,151 adults age 18 and older completed the online survey. Data were weighted by sex, age, race/ethnicity and education level based on the US Census Current Population Survey (released December 2011).