Although sunscreen has been a summer staple for years now, the majority of Americans are sunscreen slackers. In fact, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 14.3 percent of men regularly reach for the sunscreen. While women do better at 29.9 percent, they’re not exactly setting sunscreen-use records.
In light of this less-than-stellar sunscreen compliance, it’s not surprising to learn that skin-cancer rates are on the rise – so much so, that skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society projects that, this year alone, 74,000 people nationwide will be diagnosed with melanoma – the most lethal form of skin cancer. Of those who are diagnosed annually, nearly 10,000 will lose their lives.
Increase your Sunscreen IQ
Given skin cancer’s deadly potential; don’t let another summer go by without increasing your sunscreen IQ. For starters, the American Academy of Dermatology wants you to select a sunscreen this is:
Regarding the last bullet point, experts agree that a SPF 30 sunscreen filters out roughly 97 percent of UV-B rays, so going bigger SPF-wise doesn’t equate to better. To the contrary, many experts contend that those who select a sunscreen with a stratospheric SPF – such as 50 or above – tend to wrongly assume that the higher number provides longer-lasting protection. As a result, users often fail to reapply the sunscreen every two hours, as is recommended.
The acronym SPF (sun protection factor) actually is an antiquated abbreviation, in that it only refers to protection from UV-B rays, not UV-A. Although UV-A rays aren’t guilty of causing sunburns, they are culpable when it comes to skin cancer and the premature aging of skin. That’s why – when shopping for sunscreen – pick one that’s clearly labeled “broad spectrum.”
While broad spectrum falls into the thumbs-up category, the Environmental Working Group gives a thumbs down to two specific ingredients found in some sunscreens:
Oxybenzone – This ingredient penetrates the skin and can trigger allergic reactions;
Retinyl Palmitate – A form of vitamin A, this ingredient can prompt the development of skin tumors and lesions.
Those in the skin-cancer-prevention business additionally advise steering clear of spray-on sunscreens. Although they’re convenient – particularly when it comes to sun-proofing uncooperative kiddos – watch-dog groups caution that consumers who choose pumps or aerosols are unlikely to spray enough product for the sunscreen to reach its full SPF value. Also, the Food and Drug Administration is investigating the risks of inhaling spray sunscreens.
In order for a sunscreen to reach its full SPF value, it’s recommended that it be applied following these general rules of thumb:
One teaspoon for your face, head, and neck;
One teaspoon for each arm;
One teaspoon for each leg;
One teaspoon for your chest and stomach;
One teaspoon for your back and the back of your neck.
It’s never too Late
The conventional wisdom that sunburns sustained in childhood lay the foundation for the future emergence of melanoma has today been replaced by the scientific finding that the risk of skin cancer actually increases – with each additional sunburn – throughout one’s life.
Consequently, each phase of life presents an opportunity to avoid getting sunburned and thus reducing the risk of skin cancer. Even if your life to date has been a sunscreen-free existence, by becoming a user now, you will be making a significant stride toward lowering your risk of later becoming a skin-cancer statistic.