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Burning questions about sunscreen and the protection it affords have recently come to light. According to, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, accounting for half of all cancer cases in the United States. In 2007, it was estimated that there were over 59,000 cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. and that over 10,000 people die each year from the disease. Recently, the FDA proposed new regulations for sunscreen labels, requiring that protection against UVA light be listed along with UVB protection. The four star rating system goes from low to highest. The standards for UVB protect go from 2 SPF all the way up to Neutrogena’s recently released 100+ SPF sunscreen.

But what does this really mean and how does it help us protect ourselves from sun burning and possible skin cancer? To better understand how to protect your skin, you need to know the myths and the facts about sunscreen.

FACT: UVA and UVB rays cause different kinds of skin damage.
UVA penetrates your deepest layers of skin, causing it to play a role in aging and wrinkling and also damages basal layers of skin, in effect slowly destroying your body’s natural defenses against cancerous cells. Most tanning booths and sun lamps emit UVA rays. UVB rays are the main force behind sunburns, damaging your skin in the upper, more visible levels of skin.  UVB is most prevalent between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. from April through October. UVB are mainly responsible for the development of skin cancer.

MYTH: The higher the SPF number, the greater increase of protection.
SPF 15 filters out 93 percent of rays while an SPF 30 protects you against 97 percent. Scientists doubt there is any significant prevention power of any sunscreen above SPF 30. Combining two different sunscreens, such as an SPF 15 with an SPF 45, will not boost your protection. The Mayo Clinic states: “The beneficial effects of sunscreen decreases over time, so after a few hours the difference between the two may be even less. Don't rely on the SPF factor to decide how long you're safe in the sun.”

FACT: SPF affects everyone’s skin differently.
Wearing an SPF 15 sunscreen means that sunscreen will make your skin burn 15 times less quickly, but that amount of time depends on how long it normally takes your skin to burn. Typically, a sunscreen of SPF 15 is recommended for daily wear with an SPF 30 used for extended time out of doors.

MYTH: My skin will tell me when I need to reapply sunscreen.
Sunscreen should be applied around 30 minutes before any outdoor activity since the chemical needs times to soak into your skin and should be reapplied every two hours or more frequently if your body is exposed to water or sweat. The Mayo Clinic states “Don't count on your skin to tell you when you've had too much sun. It may take up to 24 hours for a sunburn to develop fully.”

FACT: Sunscreen should be applied thoroughly and daily.
Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed areas of the body, even your ears and lips. It usually takes around 1-2 ounces of sunscreen to cover the entire body fully. Many dermatologists suggest sunscreen application should be a daily habit. Skipping your sunscreen once is enough to let rays that are harmful to the skin.

MYTH: My waterproof or all-day sunscreen works after I’ve been swimming.

Whenever your body hits water – like swimming in the pool, ocean, or intense perspiration – sunscreen is rubbed off. According to the FDA, a “water-resistant” sunscreen looses its SPF protection after around 40 minutes of water exposure whereas a “water proof” sunscreen looses its SPF protection after 80 minutes of water exposure. Also, there is no such thing as “all-day” sunscreen. All sunscreen needs to be reapplied continually throughout the day for maximum effectiveness.

MYTH: Those with naturally darker skin are at no risk for skin cancer.
According to the EPA, “everybody, regardless of race or ethnicity, is subject to the potential adverse effects of overexposure to the sun.” A recent study by the American Academy of Dermatology found that those at the highest risk for skin cancer are Hispanics, African-American and women under the age of 40. The study claimed the amount of melanoma discovered in Hispanics and African-Americans was “higher than the national average”. Young women were found particularly susceptible if they used tanning beds or had high exposure to UV rays.

FACT: There are certain sunscreen ingredients that boost protection.

Zinc oxide and titanium oxide are some of the most preventative chemicals, but are typically found in sunblocks rather than sunscreen because they were not opaque. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a good sunscreen should contain at least two of the following: avobenzone, oxybenzone, or Mexoryl SX (also known as ecamsule). Labels that list “multi-spectrum,” “broad spectrum,” or “UVA/UVB protection” all must contain some level of UVA protection.

MYTH: Only family history puts me at risk for skin cancer.

Skin cancer risk factors include unprotected sun exposure, a history of sunburns, excessive exposure to the sun, living in a sunny or high-altitude climate, a weakened immune systems from diseases such as HIV/AIDS or leukemia, or fragile skin from diseases such as eczema and psoriasis. Skin cancer is a slowly developing disease which can take root in childhood but not manifest itself until middle age.

FACT: There are many ways to reduce your likeliness of developing skin cancer.
There are several measures one can take to try and prevent cancer such as staying in the shade when the sun is at its most intense, or covering up with clothing, UV-blocking sunglasses, and broad brimmed hats. Self-administered monthly skin examinations as well as yearly doctor visits are great preventatives. Taking Vitamin D supplements are a healthy way of getting needed vitamins without sun exposure.

MYTH: There are no warning signs of skin cancer.
Skin with scaly textures or that is oozing, bleeding, changing in sensation, itchy, tender, or painful may also be a symptom. Changes on the skin, such as size or color of a mole, darkly pigmented spots and growths, or new bodily growths may be indicators. When pigmentation spreads, such as the dark coloring of a mole or mark going past its normal edge, can also be a sign of developing cancer. Symptoms should be reported to a doctor or dermatologist in order to be properly diagnosed and treated. / Issue 99 - September 4756
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