Sun Bathing

Protecting your skin and health while enjoying the outdoors

Roseville, Calif. – Protecting your skin from the harmful rays of the sun is a simple way to help prevent the development of skin cancer. The incidence rate for skin cancer has been increasing every year and the numbers can seem quite staggering: in the U.S., skin cancers are diagnosed annually in more than 3 million people; one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their lifetime; and 40 to 50 percent of those who live to age 65 will have skin cancer at least once.

Each year, May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Barton Bradshaw, M.D., from Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital answers the most frequent questions about sun protection and provides tips to keep you protected all summer long.

“The important thing about skin cancer, like all cancers, is early detection.”

Dr. Bradshaw

What SPF should I use?

High SPF numbers can lead to a false sense of security. SPFs higher than 50 provide only 2% more protection than an SPF 25-30, which protects against 97-98% of UVB rays. All sunscreens need to be applied every 90 minutes, especially if you are outside for more than two hours, actively walking, reading, running errands or gardening. Sunscreen should always be reapplied after swimming or other water activities. This is true even for “water resistant” and “sweat proof” labeled products. And remember that sunscreen should be applied 20-30 minutes before sun exposure. Be sure to apply to all exposed skin including places like ears and feet.

A best practice is to use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays.

Do I need to wear sunscreen if I am just going to be outside for 15 minutes?

Applying sunscreen should be a part of your daily routine all year, but is especially important in the summer. Dr. Bradshaw recommends these additional steps to adequately protect yourself in addition to sunscreen:

  • Wear a hat with a wide brim.
  • Wear sunglasses that provide maximum UVA and UVB eye protection.
  • Apply a lip balm with an SPF of 15-30 and reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
  • Wear clothing made of a protective fabric with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 15-50+.
  • Avoid products that make you more sensitive to sunburn.
  • Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen even on cloudy or overcast days

What should I do if my medications make me more sensitive to the sun but I enjoy being outside?

Many common medications can increase your sensitivity to the sun resulting in burns, rashes, and other reactions. Ask your doctor or pharmacist if your medications are in this category. Common medications include: acne products (e.g. benzoyl peroxide and retinoids), antibiotics (e.g. ciprofloxacin, doxycycline, tetracycline, and Bactrim), antidepressants such as tricyclics, even over the counter medications and dietary supplements such as naproxen and St. John’s Wort.

If you take medications that increase your sensitivity to the sun, be extra vigilant about avoiding being outdoors in the sun or stay in the shade during the mid-day hours, wear sun protectant clothing that is light weight and breathable, and use a good quality sunscreen. 

How can I be sure that I am protected and not at risk for cancer?

It goes without saying to avoid all tanning beds said Dr. Bradshaw. There is no safe amount of tanning. The risk of melanoma and other skin cancers increases with each tan, especially tanning booths. Women younger than 30 are six times more likely to develop melanoma if they tan indoors.

“The important thing about skin cancer, like all cancers, is early detection,” said Dr. Bradshaw.  “It’s also valuable to understand that your behavior will have a lot to do with whether you develop skin cancer since more than 90 percent of all non-melanoma skin cancers are the result of sun exposure.”

I recommend talking to your doctor about an annual skin exam and everyone should be on the lookout for noticeable changes to your skin including:

  • Smooth, shiny patches that bleed easily
  • Rough, scaly patches that are pink or skin toned
  • Moles that are asymmetrical, have irregular borders or irregular/changing colors, and diameters more than six millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser tip)

For more information on skin cancer prevention or for questions, visit skincancer.org or call Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital at 530-886-6712.