Sunscreen: Protect Yourself from Sunburn and Skin Cancer

Sunburn and Skin Cancer

How to Choose the Right Sunscreen

Sun exposure is a significant cause of premature aging and skin cancer. The sun’s ultraviolet rays damage DNA and cause mutations that lead to skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. It is also the most preventable type of cancer. 90% of cases could be prevented if people used sunscreen every day.

But did you know that even using sunscreen doesn’t always protect against sunburns? And that sunburns can increase your risk of developing skin cancer later in life?

In this article, I’ll explain why sunscreens aren’t always effective at protecting against sunburns and skin cancer and what you can do instead.

Why is it essential that you wear sunscreen?

The UVA portion of sunlight penetrates deeper into our bodies than UVB does. This means that when exposed for long periods or over many years, UVA radiation may have more impact on us than UVB has.

UVA causes wrinkles, age spots, freckles, hyperpigmentation, and sagging skin. Over time, these changes are cumulative, so they add up quickly!

UVB damages cells by causing them to mutate and become cancerous. If left untreated, skin cancers caused by UVB will eventually spread throughout the body. These types of cancers include melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.

How to choose the right sunscreen?

When choosing sunscreen, there are several factors to consider: SPF rating, ingredients, how often you should reapply, and whether you need an additional moisturizer with it.

SPF stands for “sun protection factor.” A higher number indicates more excellent protection. Most sunscreens offer some level of security—a minimum of 15 blocks out of 2 hours of harmful UVB rays.

But don’t assume that just because a product claims to block 95 percent of all UVB rays, it provides adequate protection. That percentage only applies to direct exposure; indirect exposure through glass windows and other surfaces still allows UVB penetration. For example, a window facing south offers no protection whatsoever.

If you’re not sure which products provide enough protection, look for ones labeled as broad-spectrum.

Broad-spectrum sunscreens contain zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, avobenzone, octinoxate, oxybenzone, PABA, ecamsule, or drometrizole trisilicate. They tend to cost slightly more but are worth it since they provide better coverage.

You might think that applying multiple layers of sunscreen would give you complete protection, but research shows otherwise. Studies show that after 10 minutes of being outside without any sunscreen, about 50 percent of unprotected areas were already showing signs of burning. After 30 minutes, 80percent showed evidence of burning. By 60 minutes, 100 percent had burned. So while wearing sunscreen protects you from immediate burns, it won’t necessarily keep you safe from future burn risks.

It’s best to apply sunscreen before outdoors, especially during peak outdoor activity times such as midday. Apply a generous amount directly onto bare skin and rub it in well. You want to get the full benefit of the active ingredients. Reapply regularly according to the directions on the label. Some sunscreens require two applications per hour to maintain effectiveness. Others recommend reapplying every few hours.

What else can help me stay protected?

Even though sunscreen isn’t perfect, it’s one of the easiest ways to reduce your chances of getting burnt and developing skin cancer.

But if you do develop a sunburn, remember that redness doesn’t always mean damage has occurred. It may be expected and harmless. However, prolonged reddening, blistering, peeling, itching, swelling, tenderness, blisters, ulcers, bleeding, pain, fever, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, headache, confusion, seizures, difficulty breathing, heart palpitations, numbness, weakness, fainting, vision problems, feeling faint, or loss of consciousness could indicate dehydration, infection, heatstroke, allergic reaction, liver disease, kidney failure, blood clot formation, or even death. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any symptoms listed above.

The good news is that most people who have developed a mild sunburn recover within 24-48 hours.

The bad news is that many cases go undiagnosed until much later, when complications arise. To prevent this, make sure you follow these tips:

• Don’t forget to use sunscreen for at least 20 minutes before leaving indoors.

• Use waterproof sunscreen whenever possible. Waterproofs protect against sweat and rain.

• Wear protective clothing, hats, sunglasses, and gloves when spending long periods outdoors.

• Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, both of which increase thirst.

• Consider using a cooling mist sprayer instead of spraying yourself with lotion.

• If you notice an unusual rash, don’t scratch; see a doctor right away.

How should I treat a sunburn?

Apply cool compresses to relieve discomfort. Do not put ice packs over the area because this will cause further injury. Instead, cover the affected area with plastic wrap. This helps retain moisture and reduces inflammation.

Use aloe vera gel or ointment to soothe irritated skin. Aloe vera contains natural healing properties that promote cell regeneration and repair damaged tissue. Creams containing vitamin E also work wonders by protecting exposed skin cells from UV rays.

Don’t pop open those zits! Many dermatologists agree that popping pimples does little to nothing except irritate them further. But there are some things you can try to ease their irritation. Try dabbing calamine lotion on the spot. Or mix equal parts witch hazel and water into a paste and gently scrub off the top layer of dead skin. Then rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Sunscreen is mandatory according to the current environment if you are using it wisely!


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