Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Here Comes The Sun ... 10 Sunscreen Mistakes

Now that the dog days of August are here, doctors advise us to be vigilant about protecting our skin.  Everywhere I turn, there are articles and news segments telling us what to do and not do in the war against skin cancer.  The consensus: Skin cancer is on the raise.  One out of five people will get it in his or her life, with melanoma being the most serious diagnosis.  Many people today know they need protection.  But here are 10 common mistakes people make when using sunscreen, as cited by many dermatologists:

1. Not avoiding midday sun – The sun is stronger between the hours of 10 am - 4 pm, so shun peak hours.
2. Not wearing a high SPF sunscreen – If you are outdoors for hours, dermatologists recommend SPF 30.
3. Not reapplying sunscreen every two to three hours – This is what yours truly fails to do.
4. Not applying enough (quantity) sunscreen – At the beach you should use two tablespoons, or a shot glass amount to cover your skin.  A family of four should go through a bottle of sunscreen every 3 to 4 days, says [You] Dr. Mohmet Oz.
5. Not applying sunscreen to your scalp, ears and lips.
6. Using a sunscreen that blocks only UVB rays – A sunblock that contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide blocks both UVB and UVA rays.  UVB causes burns and cancer, and UVA causes aging.
7. People with dark or olive skin not wearing sunscreen – Unlike centuries ago, the earth's ozone layer is compromised.  Today every skin type needs protection while outdoors to prevent skin cancer.
8. Using expired sunscreen  Some experts tell you to replace your sunscreen every year to be safe, but according to Dr. Lawrence E. Gibson, a dermatologist from the Mayo Clinic, sunscreens are made to last for 3 years and will remain stable as long as they don't bake in the sun.  So keep the bottles tucked away in a tote, or indoors, and check exploration dates.
9. Wearing only sunscreen, but not wearing protective clothing  Dermatologists advice us to wear wide brimmed hats and cover ups, along with sunscreen while outdoors.
10. Only wearing sunscreen in the summer – We need to protect exposed skin all year around even on cloudy days, or while driving.

However, the prescription gets a tab more complicated.  While dermatologists, who -- naturally, see lots of skin cancer -- warn patients to stay out of the sun, other doctors worry that we are not getting enough vitamin D, and a lack of vitamin D may cause other cancers and health issues.  So now the conventional wisdom is, be sure to get 10 - 15 minutes of direct sunlight 3-4 times a week, before using sunscreen and/or covering up the rest of the time to guard against skin cancer.  These doctors say getting a little direct sun allows your body to make vitamin D without significantly increasing your risk of skin cancer.  Got that?  So once again, everything in moderation. 

Good health care is always a matter of weighing risks against benefits.  I like to wash sunscreen off my skin before bed, because in the absence of the sun, I don't need the chemicals.  Enjoy the easy, breezy long days of summer.
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  1. I am a beach person with a perpetual tan and skin in good shape.

    What I recommend is to get a tan very late in the day using reflecting water. It's concentrated so 15 or 20 minutes worth does the job. Angle of reflection = angle of deflection, or something like that. If you find a good sunny spot you can top up the tan all year round- even if not at the beach.

  2. @Barry P : I pretty much stay in the shade. It's cooler. Any color I get is from taking walks and running errands. I wonder what George Hamilton does.

  3. @Debra

    Back at you- the best time to tan is not in the summer, but rather Spring and Autumn, when it is safer. Winter is more challenging- need to balance the sun angle against not getting a chill.

    Totally agree that the summer is not a good time to be out. Re- George Hamilton, the guy looks very good. I would also be curious how he does it.

    I've avoided sunscreens because when reading the labels, I can't pronounce half the ingredients (a lot like eating b-fast cereal).