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This Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month make your sunscreen count
Story Number is : 042617102
Women’s Faulkner Hospital

May is Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. It’s also the time of year when the weather turns warm and you’re more apt to be outdoors and exposed to the sun. While the best way to prevent skin cancer, and skin aging, is to avoid sun exposure entirely, for most of us a beautiful spring day is too good to resist. Luckily, Dr. Emily Stamell Ruiz from Brigham and Women’s Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery Center at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital has some simple tips for choosing and applying sunscreen to help you enjoy those sunny days safely.

Choose a sunscreen with broad-spectrum coverage. Sunlight consists of two types of ultraviolet light: UVA and UVB rays. Exposure to both types can cause skin cancer and aging of the skin. It’s important to choose a sunscreen that protects against both forms of ultraviolet light. Physical sunscreens contain active mineral ingredients, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, and deflect ultraviolet rays, directly blocking sun exposure. Chemical sunscreens contain organic compounds, such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, octisalate and avobenzone, and create a chemical reaction that degrades the ultraviolet rays. Both have pros and cons, but as long as you choose one with broad-spectrum coverage, you are protecting your skin!

Wear sunscreen with SPF of at least 30. Sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of ultraviolet rays. While higher SPF numbers can block more rays, none will block 100 percent. Many people believe that a higher number SPF will last longer, but this is not true. Higher number SPF will last the same amount of time as a lower number SPF and both should be reapplied at the same time interval.

Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours. All sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours. If you are swimming or sweating, then you should reapply sunscreen more frequently.

Wear sun protective clothing with SPF. Sun protective clothing with built in SPF can help protect your skin from ultraviolet rays. Long-sleeve shirts and pants often allow one to feel cooler by keeping the hot sun off your skin. Wide-brimmed hats protect the face, ears and neck while polarized sunglasses protect the eyes.

Apply sunscreen before going outdoors. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside. This is more important for chemical sunscreens, which take at least 20 minutes to work. Physical sunscreens work immediately so there is no need to wait before going outside.

Apply sunscreen broadly. Sunscreen should be applied to all areas not covered by clothing. Don't forget ears, scalp and hands.

Apply enough sunscreen. Most people apply 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen. A typical adult requires two tablespoons to cover exposed body areas. You should use a nickel-sized amount to cover the face alone.

Wear sunscreen every day. Don’t forget you can still get ultraviolet exposure even in the winter or on a cloudy day. Ultraviolet light penetrates clouds and can cause damage to your skin. Even snow reflects ultraviolet rays, increasing your skin’s exposure.

Check expiration dates on sunscreen. Sunscreen does expire! Sunscreen loses its strength and will not be effective. Check the bottle for an expiration date and if it has passed, buy a new one. If there is no expiration date, then sunscreen over three years old should be discarded. Change in color or consistency are signs that sunscreen has expired.

For more information about skin cancer prevention and detection, make an appointment with Dr. Emily Stamell Ruiz or another dermatologist at Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital by calling 617-983-7500.

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