Protect Yourself Outdoors, Part 1: Sun Safety

Barb_Klaas_blogBarb Klaas, R.N., BSN, has worked at Upland Hills Health for 12 years, and splits her time between 3 departments: nursing informatics (integrates nursing science with information management and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage, and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice), patient and family services, and the inpatient hospital floor. 

It’s spring and we’ll be spending more time in the sun as the weather warms up. We all know that it’s important to protect our skin from the sun’s harmful rays. According to skincancer.org, about 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas can be attributed to exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.

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The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:

  • Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
  • SPF 30 or higher. A high-number SPF does not allow you to spend additional time outdoors without reapplication. Sunscreens should be reapplied approximately every two hours when outdoors, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.
  • Water resistance

Additional tips for getting the most out of your sunscreen:

  • Use sunscreen any time you are outside. The sun emits harmful UV rays year-round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin. Snow, sand, and water increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays. UVA rays (or aging rays) can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and age spots, and can pass through window glass. UVB rays (or burning rays) are the primary cause of sunburn and are blocked by window glass.BoywithMomApplyingSunscreen_500w
  • Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body.
  • Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears and the top of your head.
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors.
  • Skin cancer also can form on the lips. To protect your lips, apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • When outdoors, reapply sunscreen approximately every two hours, or after swimming or sweating, according to the directions on the bottle.

What kind of sunscreen should I use? What’s the difference between chemical vs. physical sunscreens?

Chemical sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing the sun’s rays. They contain one or more of the following active ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These formulations tend to be easier to rub into the skin without leaving a white residue.
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Physical sunscreens work like a shield, sitting sit on the surface of your skin and deflecting the sun’s rays. They contain the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Opt for this sunscreen if you have sensitive skin.

  • Creams are best for dry skin and the face.
  • Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest.
  • Sticks are good to use around the eyes.
  • Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they are easy to apply to children.

Can I use the sunscreen I bought last summer, or do I need to purchase a new bottle each year? Does it lose its strength?

  • The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years.
  • Some sunscreens include an expiration date. If the expiration date has passed, throw out the sunscreen.
  • If you buy a sunscreen that does not have an expiration date, write the date you bought the sunscreen on the bottle. That way, you’ll know when to throw it out.
  • You also can look for visible signs that the sunscreen may no longer be good. Any obvious changes in the color or consistency.