How Sunscreen Protects Your Skin: Your Burning Questions Answered 

If applying sunscreen isn’t already a part of your daily routine, it should be.
Unfortunately, many of us aren’t vigilant about sunscreen application. Approximately one in five Americans will experience skin cancer during their lifetimes, and nearly 10,000 people are diagnosed with a form of skin cancer in the United States every day.
Wearing sunscreen can help preserve the health and appearance of your skin regardless of age. When used appropriately, sunscreen can significantly slow external signs of aging and protect against skin cancer.
But first, what counts as sunscreen? 
What’s physical sunscreen?
Physical sunscreen, or sunblock, is a form of sun protection that acts as a barrier between the skin and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is a form of invisible, short-wavelength energy from the sun and certain types of artificial light sources (tanning beds). As ionizing radiation, UV energy can remove electrons from molecular and atomic structures, which affects the DNA in living tissues, potentially leading to cancer.
UV radiation is divided into three categories: 
  • Ultraviolet A (UVA): UVA radiation is most commonly associated with photoaging (wrinkles) and certain skin cancers.
  • Ultraviolet B (UVB): UVB radiation has a slightly longer wavelength than UVA. UVB rays are associated with sunburn and especially dangerous forms of skin cancer, notably malignant melanoma.
  • Ultraviolet C (UVC): UVC radiation has the shortest wavelength of the three types of UV energy, but UVC radiation is only produced artificially; the ozone layer filters out almost all UVC rays from the sun. UVC radiation is used to disinfect surfaces. It can cause significant damage to the skin and eyes.
Physical sunscreens contain minerals that reflect UV rays away from the skin, preventing absorption and UV damage. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved minerals are titanium dioxide and zinc oxide.
Clothing can also act as physical sunscreen if made of materials that effectively block UV radiation. It is the most effective form of body sunscreen because it provides a continual barrier that does not have to be reapplied (unlike liquid sunscreens). Sun-protective clothing is made from fabrics with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). However, it’s important to learn the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions; a garment’s UPF can degrade over time.
What’s chemical sunscreen? 
Chemical sunscreens provide sun protection by disrupting UV radiation and dissipating it after it has been absorbed into the skin. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens in the United States are avobenzone, homosalate, octinoxate, octisalate, octocrylene, and oxybenzone.
Chemical sunscreens are easily absorbed into the skin and do not leave visible residue (some physical sunscreens can leave a white cast on the skin). However, some people experience inflammation, redness, and other reactions to certain ingredients in chemical sunscreens.
While both physical and chemical sunscreens offer numerous sun-protecting benefits, most products contain a combination of mineral and chemical active ingredients, effectively providing double-duty sun protection.
What is SPF? 
SPF is an initialism for Sun Protection Factor. SPF measures the amount of protection a sunscreen provides against UV radiation.
The SPF of a product is determined by the amount of time it takes for sunburn to occur when a person is wearing sunscreen compared to the amount of time it takes for sunburn to occur without sunscreen. The higher the SPF, the more protection a sunscreen provides.
The CDC recommends using a sunscreen with at least SPF 15, which will block 93 percent of UVB rays.
What are broad-spectrum sunscreens? 
It is important to use sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection, which protects against UVA and UVB rays. While a sunscreen’s SPF is important, the product’s ability to protect against both types of radiation is crucial in preventing sun damage.
How much sunscreen should I apply? 
Most people do not use enough sunscreen to be effective. The recommended amount of sunscreen for the face, ears, and neck is approximately one teaspoon. If you aren’t wearing sun-protective clothing, you should apply sunscreen to the body, too. Approximately two tablespoons should provide sufficient coverage, depending on body size and the amount of exposed skin.
If you plan to spend several hours in direct sunlight, reapply your sunscreen every two hours for maximum protection. If you anticipate swimming or sweating heavily, a water-resistant sunscreen is essential.
Do I need to apply sunscreen when I’m not spending time outdoors? 
Yes! It’s best to wear sunscreen at all times, if only to protect against accidental sun exposure. If you spend a great deal of time near a window (and you aren’t sure if the windows have UV filters) or have long commutes, sunscreen can protect you.
Consult a dermatologist to learn which type of sunscreen is best for your skin.

Check and Protect in Honor of Skin Cancer Awareness Month! 

Skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer in the United States. The American Cancer Society reports more than 5 million cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed yearly, with nearly 10,000 new skin cancer cases discovered daily.
It’s impossible to avoid the sun completely. However, continual sun protection and skin checks can radically reduce your risk of developing a dangerous form of skin cancer.
Check Yourself 
It’s important to familiarize yourself with your skin to easily recognize any suspicious changes. Periodic self-evaluations should be a part of your routine, particularly if you have a history of sunburn or a high risk of developing skin cancer (family history of cancer or very fair skin).
Here are some tips for performing a skin check: 
  • Stand in front of a mirror in a well-lit room.
  • Be sure to look at the entire body from head to toe, including the scalp, the back of the neck, the back, between the buttocks, and the soles of the feet.
  • As you look at your skin, look for any changes in size, shape, color, or texture in any moles, birthmarks, or freckles. Pay special attention to any growths with an irregular shape or color, areas of skin that are tender, itchy, or bleeding, or moles that have changed size or shape over time.
  • Take note of any changes that you find, and be sure to mention any changes to your doctor.
While self-checks should not be considered a substitute for dermatologist-administered skin evaluations, periodic skin self-assessments can alert you to small changes that shouldn’t wait for an annual screening. If you find any skin changes, schedule an appointment with a dermatologist for a medical exam.
Have a Dermatologist Check Your Skin 
A skin cancer screening at a dermatologist is an important step in keeping your skin healthy. At the appointment, the doctor will generally perform a head-to-toe examination of your skin. They will look for any suspicious spots or moles and check for any changes in existing moles. Your doctor may also use a special tool, like a dermatoscope, to better view the moles and check for any signs of skin cancer.
You will be asked questions about your family history and any changes to moles or spots that you have noticed. Your doctor may ask you to monitor any suspicious moles and report back to them if you notice any changes.
Your doctor might also take a biopsy of any concerning moles or spots, which involves taking a small tissue sample. A lab will analyze and test the sample for cancer.
At the end of the appointment, your doctor will discuss the examination and biopsy results, if needed, and explain what to do if any further treatment is necessary.
Protect Yourself 
Preventing skin cancer requires a multi-faceted approach to sun protection. You might think applying sunscreen isn’t necessary if you don’t spend much time outdoors, but ultraviolet radiation can be quite sneaky.
You can reduce your risk by following the following sun safety tips:
  • Wear sunscreen daily. Even if you spend most of your day working indoors, you could be exposed to unfiltered UV radiation if you work near a window or have a long drive to work. Wearing a good, broad-spectrum sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher) will shield you from inadvertent UV exposure.
  • When it comes to sunblock, more is more! Most people don’t use enough sunscreen. Your face and neck require approximately one teaspoon of sunscreen for thorough coverage. For full body protection, you’ll need at least two tablespoons to shield yourself from head to toe.
  • Wear clothes with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+. If it’s not practical to slather your whole body with sunscreen, wearing long-sleeved sun-protective clothing is an excellent alternative. Choose garments with a UPF label to ensure you get the proper protection. Also – don’t forget sunglasses! Choose a UV-blocking, wrap-around pair for maximum coverage.
  • Stay in the shade. A shady spot can screen out a significant amount of UV light, but it depends upon the quality of the material blocking the sun and the degree to which you are exposed to indirect light. Dense tree covers provide greater protection than single trees, and structures with side walls offer more protection than shade structures mounted on poles.
Skin cancer screenings are important for early detection, increasing your chances of successful treatment if any abnormalities are discovered. It’s important to follow up with your dermatologist regularly to check for any changes, and to get a skin cancer screening at least once a year.

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