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Study: We’re Not Using Enough Sunscreen

Tips for protecting your skin all summer long

Study: We’re Not Using Enough Sunscreen

Matthias Clamer/Getty Images

Even on cloudy days the sun’s UV rays can be harmful.

May is skin cancer awareness month and sunscreen is a key prevention tool. Yet researchers have found that many of us barely use it for skin protection. And when we do, we’re skimping, not slathering it on.

These mistakes were uncovered last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, which contained a report about an experiment with free sunscreen dispensers. 

Researchers placed the dispensers throughout the grounds of the Minnesota State Fair and for 93 hours watched how 2,187 people used sunscreen. Only one third applied it to all of their exposed skin, and just slightly more (38 percent) had on sun-protective clothing, hats or sunglasses.

Other observations from the fair experiment: More women than men used the free sunscreen, and fewer people applied it on cloudy days. “Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can reach your skin,” says Ingrid Polcari, MD, FAAD, board-certified dermatologist and one of the study authors.

Since about 87,110 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2017, according to the American Cancer Society, it’s time to take your sunscreen seriously.

Experts offer the following tips for protecting your skin this summer.

1. Before you walk out the door, choose protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and pants. Vivid colors offer more protection than pale ones. And darker colors block more UV radiation than lighter shades. Plus, synthetic fibers (Lycra, acrylic, nylon) are better than cotton, notes the Skin Cancer Foundation.

2. Apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, not just to your face and arms. How much? Follow the dermatologist guideline of one ounce (enough to fill a shot glass). Adjust the amount depending on your body size.

3. Choose a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher. While no sunscreen can filter out all of the sun’s UVB rays, those with SPF 30 block 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.

4. Look for the words “broad spectrum.” This means the sunscreen will protect against both UVA rays (which cause premature skin aging) and UVB rays (which cause sunburn). Both types of UV rays can lead to skin cancer.

5. Look for the term “water resistant.” No sunscreen is completely waterproof, but water-resistant brands can provide protection for wet or sweaty skin for 40 or 80 minutes, as indicated on the label. Reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.

For sensitive skin, choose a sunscreen with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Those with sensitive skin should avoid sunscreens that contain fragrance, oils and para-aminobenzoic acid ( PABA).