How Much Sunscreen Do I Really Need?

Summer4827805659_9da7bd0ae7_b is all about having fun in the sun. We’ve all made plans to enjoy the beach, lake, and/or pool. Many of my friends are planning to lay on the beach and even out their tans for that perfect summer-kissed glow (due to all the up-coming weddings they are attending). Seems like no big deal, right? Well, it’s NBD until you have few moles removed from your back and your doctor is telling you that a sunburn you got 10-15 years ago is probably what made those moles a problem today. Listen, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and accounts for about half of all cancers diagnosed. According to the American Academy of Dermatology nearly 145,000 Americans will be diagnosed with some form of melanoma this year. Moreover, 75% of skin cancer deaths are due to melanoma. It is a big deal.

My fiance just had a mole removed from his back two weeks ago. Today, he goes in to have the stitches removed. The doctor explained to us that on a scale of 1 – 5, where “1 is normal” and “5 is cancer” the previous biopsy of the mole was a “3” and that’s why the mole and the area around it needed to be excised. As a cancer survivor and liver transplant recipient, I understand the importance of protecting my skin because I am “100 times more likely than the general public to develop squamous cell carcinoma.” Despite the cautionary tales I’d shared and the “wear sunscreen” speech I’ve relayed from my doctors, friends, and fellow cancer survivors- it wasn’t until this happened to him that it “clicked.”

I don’t want you to have to end up with a cancer diagnosis to realize and practice the simple steps you can take to avoid getting sunburned. Sunburns today could be skin cancer in a year or 10 years. Trust me. Cancer is expensive and interrupts your life significantly. Below are some questions and answers to help make the case for protecting your skin this summer.

Q: If the sun is so scary, are you expecting me to stay inside all summer?

A: Please don’t hide in your closet all summer. Go outside, be active! It’s essential to your health in countless ways. I’m just asking that you be smart about it. Avoid going outside during the hottest part of the day when the sun is at its highest peak. If you can’t avoid being outside during that time, limit your time in the sun, find shade, wear broad spectrum protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, etc. Think about it this way, one hour of sun at 9 A.M. is nearly equivalent to 15 minutes of sun at 1 P.M. Your goal is to stay safe in the sun. As my fiance says regularly, “Fun ends when safety ends.”

Q: So, how much sunscreen do you really need? 

A: You need to apply at least one oz. of sunscreen every two hours in order for it to really be effective. Truly! If you’ve spent 4-5 hours at the beach and a quarter of your 8 0z. tube of sunscreen isn’t gone, you didn’t use enough. If you went with a group and you still have any sunscreen left- clearly, you all didn’t use enough. Rule of thumb: apply sunscreen 30 minutes prior to being out in the sun and reapply often. Even if your sunscreen is labeled as “water-resistant” or “water-proof” you still need to reapply. Efficacy of these kinds of sunscreens means about 40-80 minutes of SPF coverage when wet.

Q: Fine! I’ll wear sunscreen. What SPF (Sunburn Protection Factor) should I use? 

A: There is some debate over this. Many believe that the higher the SPF number is, the greater it is at protecting you from UVA/UVB rays. Actually, it’s pretty negligible; but for someone who has a history of or susceptibility for skin cancer, the marketing of SPF numbers could mean peace of mind. Truth is, no matter the SPF you put on, it’s ineffective after a couple hours. Which means, it’s not necessarily the SPF number that counts, it’s how often you reapply. Effectively, you should reapply after you do anything that could make the sunscreen slough off. Be sure to purchase a quality sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection. An everyday SPF of 15 (blocks 93% of harmful rays) for your daily commute through life, in and out of buildings, etc. should be sufficient (reapply religiously). Thankfully, many lotions and make up products include SPF 15 already. However, if you’re playing in a sporting event, or near water (which is reflective) in directly sunlight, etc. you’re probably better off with a thicker, higher SPF of 30+ (blocks 97%+ harmful rays) which is the recommendation found on hopkinsmedicine.org.

Q: Sunscreen is gross. Couldn’t I just use a tanning bed?

A: If you want to jump from the frying pan and into the fire, that’s your decision as an adult. However, there’s a reason why Howard County, Maryland does not allow tanning for minors. If you read the report and its findings, I expect that you’ll see how important your skin is too. Perhaps you’ll decide tanning beds aren’t for you and that wearing sunscreen isn’t such a bad idea after all.

Clearly, I’m not a doctor or medical professional. Please consult with your primary care physician or your dermatologist for your skin health needs. Take these questions and answers as what they are: another way to hear the “wear sunscreen” speech.

Remember: use high quality, broad spectrum sunscreen, and reapply religiously!

JP is the HCLS Editor & Blog Coordinator for Well & Wise. She is also a Children’s Instructor & Research Specialist at the Savage Branch & STEM Education Center. She is a storyteller, wannabe triathlete, myriad hobbyist, cancer survivor, and liver transplant recipient.

 

 

 


1 Comment

  1. Block Island Organics

    Great overview of what sunscreen is and why it’s important to keeping skin healthy. SPF 30 or greater and “broad spectrum” on the label so you get UVB and UVA protection is our recommendation.