Protect Yourself to Avoid Skin Cancer

Media Contact Joe Poelker
Release Date: 05/13/2015 By Lawrence Wang, MD
St. Anthony's Dermatology Section Chief
Skin Cancer

Spring is here, summer is not far away, and we will all be spending more time outside. There are plenty of health benefits to being active outdoors, but you should keep in mind one serious health threat: exposure to the sun increases your risk of skin cancer.

I am sure you know sunscreen is a great protection against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet B rays, but you may be confused about which sunscreen to use and whether you really need to use one with an SPF rating as high as 85. I recommend using an SPF of 30 or above. An SPF 30 product blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 45 blocks about 98 percent of those rays. That extra one percent does not make much difference.

I also tell my patients to buy a sunscreen that has a smell and consistency they like. After all, if you like your sunscreen, you are more likely to put it on. When you apply sunscreen, make sure to use a thick layer. Two tablespoons, which is about a shot glass worth, is what you need to cover your entire body.

The biggest mistake I see patients make with sunscreen is failing to reapply it often enough. You should re-apply every 90 minutes or anytime you get out of the water.

I also tell my patients that wearing a hat is a great way to protect their skin. For the best protection, wear a wide-brim hat that will cover your ears.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which is a good time to educate everyone about the fact that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. If you live to the age of 65, you will have an almost 50 percent chance of developing skin cancer at least once. Remember to take the steps necessary to lower your risk.