How do I protect myself and my family from the sun?

How do I protect myself and my family from the sun?

With spring break coming up, I am often asked about sun protection. 

Let’s start with some background information on the skin. The skin is the largest organ of the body!  It is your body’s first line of defense.  It filters and protects from harmful germs, toxic substances, cold, and sun rays.  We know that the sun’s UV rays cause skin cancer.  Sun protection can prevent skin cancer, discoloration and prevent premature aging of the skin. 

The most effective form of sun protection is sun avoidance. That means seeking the shade, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Before sunscreen existed, the only way to protect our skin from the sun was with shade, clothing, hats and umbrellas. Sun protective clothing is still the most effective form of sun protection.  If you will be outside, cover up with clothing such as pants, long sleeved shirts, a wide brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses. Avoid tanning and UV tanning booths or beds, which greatly increase the risk of skin cancer. 

Sunscreen is another, albeit less effective way to protect the skin from UV light exposure.  The American Academy of Dermatology and dermatologists recommend consumers choose a sunscreen which states on the label:

  1. SPF 30 or higher
  2. Broad spectrum, which means it has both UVA and UVB protection
  3. Water resistant, for up to 40 or 80 minutes

Sunscreen is most effective when applied liberally 15 minutes before going outdoors. Reapplication should occur every 2 hours outdoors, or after swimming.  One ounce of sunscreen, or enough to fill one shot glass, is considered the amount needed to cover the exposed areas of the body for an adult. 

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor, which is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect skin from UVB rays. If your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 15 sunscreen would allow you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes (a factor of 15 times longer). This is a rough estimate that depends on skin type, intensity of sunlight and amount of sunscreen used. SPF is actually a measure of protection from amount of UVB exposure and it is not meant to help you determine duration of exposure.  

Many of my patients also wonder if a sunscreen with a higher SPF is better than a sunscreen with a lower SPF.  The truth is, we don’t actually apply sunscreen as thick as it is tested in the lab.  A study came out comparing SPF 100 to SPF 50 in conditions of actual use (subjects wore both sunscreens, one on each side).  The SPF 100 sunscreen was significantly more effective in protecting against sunburn than the SPF 50 sunscreen. 

So apply sunscreen early, thick and often to protect your skin!!!  

Dr. Holly Hanson Dr. Holly Hanson is a board-certified dermatologist at Associated Skin Care Specialists in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. She has been featured in numerous magazine articles for her expertise in skin cancer and skin disease. She has been named a Twin Cities Top Docs Rising Star by her peers 2 years in a row.

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