Let’s talk about proper sunscreen use. If you need to catch up take a look at the following posts:
- Basic information about unprotected sun exposure
- Less toxic sunscreen can cost more than an eco-friendly car
From the comments I’ve gotten on previous posts here, and from watching friends and family in my offline life, it’s easy to see that people rarely practice sun safety or use sunscreen correctly.
Here’s when most people actually wear sunscreen:
- Only on particularly sunny/hot days.
- Only in the summer.
- Only if they’re outside for a long while, say, at a long picnic or at the lake or beach.
If the times above are the only times you’re wearing sunscreen or practicing sun exposure safety, you’re not doing enough to protect yourself.
Organizations such as the Skin Cancer Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Melanoma Foundation, American Cancer Society and more say that you should use more than one plan of attack in order to stay safe from too much sun exposure. The sun safety steps you and your family should take, include the following:
- Avoid getting too much sun during peek sun hours (between 10 AM and 4 PM).
- Don’t tan or allow yourself to get a sunburn. Both tanning and sunburns can damage your skin and cell DNA.
- Avoid tanning beds and UV tanning booths.
- Wear lightweight clothing – which can act like a sunscreen.
- Consider wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
- Wear UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, all of which reflect UV rays and increase your chance of sunburn.
- Examine your skin once a month and report any new or changing moles or other skin changes to a dermatologist or your regular doctor. Early melanoma detection is important and can save your life.
- Use sunscreen.
How to use sunscreen correctly!
The American Melanoma Foundation notes that most people only use about 1/3 of the recommended amount of sunscreen. In my experience, people use even less than 1/3 of the recommended amount (as in none or as a novelty).
Buying a tube of sunscreen and putting it on only for some random day at the lake or beach is not using sunscreen correctly. Following is what you need to know about sunscreen use.
Sunscreen is a must MOST days of the year:
- Wear sunscreen when you’re outside for more than 20 minutes. For most people (I really hope), that is once a day at least – which in turn, is 365 days a year.
EVERYONE needs to wear sunscreen:
- Kids need sunscreen.
- Teens need sunscreen.
- Adults need sunscreen.
- Males and females need sunscreen.
- Babies should be protected with other methods first – like shade, SPF clothing and a big hat. However, if your baby is exposed to the sun, a non-chemical, baby-safe sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.
- Skin color doesn’t matter. If you’re white, brown, black, or anywhere in between, you need sunscreen.
- Skin type doesn’t matter. If you tan easily, wear sunscreen. If you have freckles or tattoos or anything else, wear sunscreen.
- Here’s a tip – got a pulse? Yes? I’m happy for you, now wear some sunscreen today.
Sunscreen is needed when it’s sunny and hot – or not:
- Wear sunscreen when it’s very sunny or kind of sunny or cloudy and when it’s hot or cold. People are exposed to UV rays even when it’s cloudy and chilly.
- Again, if you’re outside for more than 20 minutes, it’s time to put sunscreen on NO matter what the weather is like.
- Not sure how many UV rays are around today? Check the UV Index if you’re unsure about how much sun protection you need.
Type of sunscreen to use:
- Use broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. When you’re outside for an extended amount of time use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
- Because most people don’t use enough sunscreen, the American Melanoma Foundation recommends using a higher SPF then you think you need, because it increases your odds of getting enough sun protection.
- The American Academy of Pediatrics says that babies and children should use non-chemical sunscreens if possible. Of course, I think everyone, babies and adults, should aim for the best non-chemical sunscreen you can afford.
Amount of sunscreen to use:
- The proper amount of sunscreen for an average sized adult is 1 ounce (2 tablespoons or a typical shot glass) of sunscreen. This is the amount that is needed for your whole body – i.e. 1 ounce of sunscreen divided up on your face, legs, arms and so on.
- If you are a larger adult or a smaller adult or a child you may need to adjust how much sunscreen you apply. Also, the more skin exposed, the more sunscreen you need.
- When in doubt, most health organizations recommend using more sunscreen than you think you need. Always apply generously.
Sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently:
- Sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours that you’re outside. Also, if you go outside in the morning, then back out in the afternoon, you need to reapply.
- Water, humidity, and sweating decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen so you may need to reapply more often than every two hours.
The vitamin D question:
You may have heard someone say, “I’m not wearing sunscreen, because I need vitamin D,” or, “Kids shouldn’t wear sunscreen because they need vitamin D.”
We all need vitamin D, that’s true. Vitamin D aids in cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function and reduces inflammation. Vitamin D also helps us absorb calcium for stronger, healthier bones. If you’re a woman, you should know that vitamin D deficiency is linked to pregnancy infection and early-onset severe preeclampsia (pregnancy-related high blood pressure).
So yes, we all need vitamin D, and we do get some vitamin D naturally from sunlight.
That said, it doesn’t take much sunshine to get enough vitamin D. Most health organizations agree that to gain vitamin D from the sunshine, you need at least 20 to 30 minutes of direct sunlight on your hands and face two to three times a week.
Some people think you need more planned sun than 20-30 minutes 2-3 times a week. However, most cancer organizations say that the benefits of vitamin D cannot outweigh the risks of skin damage, eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer caused by unprotected sun exposure, and so note that vitamin D food sources are safer than sunshine. Vitamin D food sources are few and far between, but do exist.
The bottom line:
Most folks don’t wear enough sunscreen. Aim to wear more sunscreen, year-round and make sure you’re using enough to cover all your exposed skin areas.
Have you been using enough sunscreen? If not are you going to start now?