When we were kids, sunscreen was optional. You wore it if it was handy and if you really wanted a tan (and seriously, who didn’t?), you went without. Or worse, you got really organized (read: idiotic), slathered up in tanning oil and spent your afternoons with an album cover wrapped in tin foil under your chin. Nowadays, we are somewhat smarter, or so says NYC dermatologist Dr. Janet Prystowsky. She points out a basic fact we have to always keep in mind: that if we don’t have clothes protecting us, sunscreen is our one defense from skin cancer. So before you get outside to enjoy the sun, make sure you’re using your sunscreen right. It can only protect you if you let it.
REALITY CHECK: WHY SUNSCREEN IS VITAL
The sad fact is that if cancer developed overnight, most people would be more proactive about sun damage, but it can take 30 years for that burn to translate to a melanoma. And skin cancer doesn’t care if you covered most of your body and missed a spot. Skin cancers often appear on ears, which is a very tricky space to perform surgery. Ankles are fairly common as well. A lot people think face, chest, arms, back, and legs which is good. But any part of your skin that is exposed to the sun is at risk.
Many people want to get a base tan, then use sunscreen afterwards. It’s easy to understand why people want to be tan. No one wants to be too pale. But you’ve got to understand that tanning is a sign of sun damage. You do not need to see a physical burn or be in pain. Maybe tanning once or twice a year you’ll get lucky, it’s hard to say. But people who tan throughout the year or a lot during the summer are at a higher risk of skin cancer in years to come.
Wearing clothes in the sun—hats, shirts, pants, and shoes—is your best protection. Even a sun umbrella will help. But sometimes, it’s just too hot to wear all of that clothing, and you won’t always have an umbrella. That’s why sunscreen is so important. Anti-smoking lobbyists use lung cancer as a deterrent to prevent people from smoking. But those same people go outside without sunscreen and put themselves at serious risk of skin cancer, which kills a significant number every year. We must be proactive about protecting ourselves from environmental carcinogens like sunlight.
You can choose not to smoke, but you can’t hide from the sun. So before you strip down and sunbathe, follow these sunscreen tips. They just may save your life.
7 SUNSCREEN TIPS TO MAKE SURE YOUR SKIN IS PROTECTED
1. Always use a broad spectrum sunblock.
2. Use a sunblock of at least SPF 30-50. If you’re only outside for a short period of time, like walking your dog, SPF 30 should be fine. If you’re outside for a few hours playing a sport or sitting by the pool, you should use SPF 50 or higher.
3. Mineral sun blocks are preferred over chemical sunblocks. Our skin absorbs chemical sun blocks into our bloodstream, which, as of now, is considered safe, but additional research needs to confirm that. Also, there is a greater chance of developing allergies and other sensitivities to chemical based sun blocks.
4. Apply a liberal coat of sunscreen and reapply if you go into any water. The manufacturer’s recommended time of reapplication should be adhered to; read the label of the product you are using. Generally, you should reapply sunscreen every 2 hours.
5. Use a water resistant sunscreen when going into the water or when sweating a lot so that it stays on during your activity.
6. If you wear sunscreen every time you are outside, or if you spend little time outside, you should take vitamin D supplements. Sunscreen prevents your skin from synthesizing vitamin D in sunlight.
7. Some sunblocks contain antioxidants in addition to the active sunblocking agents. Antioxidants that are absorbed into the skin decrease free radical oxygen damage from ultraviolet exposure so are considered an added benefit when added to sunblocks.
DR. JANET’S RECOMMENDED SUNSCREENS
1. Elta MD SPF 46 Clear 2. Aveeno Baby Natural Protection SPF 50 Lotion 3. Aveeno protect-hydrate lotion for the face SPF 50 Dr. Janet Hill Prystowsky is a board-certified dermatologist with over 25 years of experience in dermatology and dermatologic surgery. Her mission is to enhance her patients’ well being through the early diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. In addition to her private practice, Dr. Prystowsky is a senior attending physician at Mount Sinai Roosevelt/St. Luke’s. In 2008, she started her own skin care line as president of LIVAD Skin Care, LLC. You can follow her on Facebook here.