A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Get Up to Speed On Sun Safety

Posted May 17, 2012

Warmer temps are here! Unshackle your sneakers from that treadmill and hit the open road. Before you swap fluorescents for fresh air, kickstart your skin protection regimen with these tips on sun safety.

sun safety

Know the Facts

More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year – more than all other cancers combined. Yet most of us are still ill informed and unprepared when it comes to the risks of sun exposure. Some of the more common misconceptions:

  • You can’t get skin cancer where the sun doesn’t shine (skin cancer can appear anywhere on the body including the palms of your hands or soles of your feet);
  • You can’t get sunburn on a cloudy day (clouds only block some of the harmful ultraviolet rays so a sunburn is still possible);
  • Skin cancer affects only light-skinned people (those with fair skin are at an increased risk but anyone can get skin cancer).

To set the record straight on skin cancer, go to skincancer.org for more myths and misconceptions.

Sunscreen Dos and Don’ts

Once you understand why it’s important to protect your skin from the sun, the next step is how . Sunscreen is the obvious first step. Easy, right? Not so fast.

According to University of Virginia Health System dermatologist Mark Russell, MD , sunscreen is an important way to protect the skin. But it must be used correctly to be fully effective.

As you restock your sunscreen supply, remember these 3 key points:

1.  Broad-spectrum is best. The Food and Drug Administration is enacting new sunscreen regulations this year that require sunscreen manufacturers to prove that sunscreens protect against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which are the primary cause of sunburn, as well as ultraviolet A (UVA) rays, which can cause premature aging. Both have been associated with the development of skin cancer yet only UVB exposure was regulated in the past.

2. Choose SPF 15 or higher.
SPF, or sun protection factor, is the standard measurement we’re accustomed to, but many still may not understand what it means. Basically, it’s a measure of how effective a sunscreen is at blocking UVB rays, and reveals how much longer you can remain in the sun safely with sunscreen on, as compared to being in the sun with no sunscreen. FDA regulations w ill require a sunscreen to be broad spectrum and have an SPF of 15 or greater before it can claim to reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature aging.

3.  Apply and reapply. Sunscreen must be applied in adequate amounts to achieve its SPF rating. For example, it may take 1 oz. (enough to fill a shot glass) to cover all of the skin. Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes prior to sun exposure and every two hours thereafter, more often if you are in water or sweating. New FDA labeling guidelines prohibit “waterproof” or “sweatproof” claims because all sunscreens wash off over time. If a sunscreen claims to be water resistant, the label must now specify whether it will remain effective for 40 or 80 minutes when exposed to water or perspiration.

Slip-On Sun Protection

If exercising outdoors for an extended period, especially during the peak exposure hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., consider adding an extra layer of protection. Photoprotective clothing, which blocks ultraviolet rays from the sun, is becoming more widely available. All clothing offers some protection, but clothing with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) boosts the protection level higher. For example, a UPF rating of 15 allows about 7 percent of UV rays to penetrate, while a UPF 50 garment allows just 2 percent of UV rays to reach the skin.

If sweating it out in a long-sleeve shirt and pants doesn’t appeal to you, just take these 4 sun-smart steps:

  •  Look for athletic shorts and shirts with sun protection
  •  Cover all skin with broad-spectrum sunscreen that is water resistant and SPF 15
  •  Be sure to protect lips and wear sunglasses with UV protection
  •  Don’t forget the hat!

Interested in a free skin cancer screening?

The University of Virginia Health System hosts FREE skin cancer screenings in May. You can also call 434.924.9333 for information about skin cancer concern or to make an appointment for a routine screening.



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