As the summer sun blazes and temperatures soar, many folks head to the beach – or at least the back yard – for some fun. Yet there are many Americans who also work in the sun, where the outdoors is the “office” and no, it doesn’t have air conditioning. But no matter what you’re doing under those hot solar rays, one thing is certain: you need to protect your skin. These sun protection and sunscreen safety tips can help.
Skin-protection products such as sunscreen play an important role in protecting you from sunburn and skin cancer. When working outside, you should use sunscreen liberally and reapply it any time it might be weakened by water or sweat.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has implemented new requirements for sunscreen testing and labeling to better reflect what the lotions can and cannot do. As a result, sunscreen labels can no longer claim to be "waterproof," "sweat proof" or a "sunblock," because they all wash or rub off, and none acts as a complete block against the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
Sometimes you’ll see a product labelled "water resistant" – which is fine as long as the label states how long it’s effective while swimming or sweating (either 40 or 80 minutes). And before claiming a sunscreen will offer protection for more than 2 hours without reapplying, companies will have to submit data to the FDA for approval.
The upshot of all this: read the labels on sunscreen, so you’ll know what you’re actually getting. The FDA rules are intended to make it easier for you.
Broad spectrum and SPF
Sometimes you’ll come across a sunscreen or moisturizer touting “broad spectrum” sun protection. That means the product defends skin against two types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB. While the sun’s UVB rays mostly burn skin, UVA radiation pierces it more deeply, wrinkling and aging it. Both types of UV radiation can cause skin cancer. Broad-spectrum protection is another designation that must meet FDA standards before it can appear on any label.
Each sunscreen product is also labeled with a sun protection factor (SPF) number. This indicates how much longer it would take your skin to burn from UVB rays than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen at all. An SPF of 15, for example, would protect your skin 15 times longer. According to the American Cancer Society, SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 filters out about 97% and SPF 50 filters out about 98%. No sunscreen shields you completely.
Preventing skin cancer
Along with broad spectrum protection, a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher will decrease the risk of skin cancer and skin damage when combined with other steps, like limiting time in the sun and wearing long-sleeved pants and shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
Of course with cancer preventions, you can never be too careful. Even if you diligently avoid the sun, cover yourself in sunscreen and wear protective clothing, you still need to watch for any signs that could indicate trouble. When skin cancer is caught early, the chances of recovery are often improved.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends checking your entire body every month. Pay special attention to vulnerable areas like ears, face, neck, arms and hands – and monitor any moles. If spots or moles are bleeding, itching, growing or changing shape or color, see a dermatologist. Otherwise, an annual skin exam should keep you well-covered.
When the sun’s out and blazing, it gets pretty hot. Check out our tips for safety in the summer heat as well.