Your skin, the largest organ of the human body, has many functions:
Who Needs Sunscreen?
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, nearly everyone needs sunscreen, which prevents skin cancer by protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful UVA/UVB rays. Anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender or race. In fact, an estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
What Sunscreen Should I Use?
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone use a sunscreen that offers the following levels of protection:
A sunscreen product with these qualities, such as Vertra’s line of “Elemental Resistance” products, helps protect your skin from sunburn, early skin aging and skin cancer. However, sunscreen alone cannot fully protect you. In addition to sunscreen, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends taking the following steps to protect your skin:
When Should I Use Sunscreen?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen should be worn every day that you will be outside exposed to the sun, which emits harmful UV rays year-round. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of harmful UVA/UVB rays from the sun can penetrate your skin.
Snow, sand and water increase the need for sunscreen because they reflect the sun’s rays.
How Much Sunscreen Should I Use and How Often?
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, the amount of sunscreen you use should be determined by a number of factors, including:
Broad Spectrum Sunscreens Protect Against Both UVA and UVB rays. What is the Difference Between UVA and UVB Rays?
Sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth: UVA rays and UVB rays. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer. In addition to causing skin cancer, these rays also:
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the World Health Organization’s International Agency of Research on Cancer have declared UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources, such as tanning beds and sun lamps, as known carcinogens (cancer-causing substance).
There is typically no safe way to tan. Every time you tan, you are in danger of damaging your skin. As this damage builds, you speed up the aging of your skin and increase your risk for all types of skin cancer.
Who Regulates Sunscreens?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates sunscreen products as over-the-counter drugs. The FDA has several safety and effectiveness regulations in place that govern the manufacture and marketing of all sunscreen products, including safety data on ingredients.
How do FDA Sunscreen Guidelines affect my Sunscreen?
Thanks to a 2011 FDA ruling, sunscreen labels now provide more information about what type of UV protection a sunscreen offers and what a sunscreen can do.
On the label, you’ll see whether the sunscreen:
Sunscreen manufacturers can no longer claim that a sunscreen is “waterproof” or “sweat proof,” as the FDA has determined that those terms are misleading. Even when using a water-resistant sunscreen, you should reapply after getting out of the water or after sweating.
Are Sunscreens Safe?
Scientific evidence supports the benefits of using sunscreen to minimize short-term and long-term damage to the skin from the sun’s rays. Using sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing are all important behaviors to reduce your risk of skin cancer.
Is a High-Number SPF Better than a Low-Number SPF?
Most dermatologists recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, which blocks 97 percent of the sun’s rays. Higher-number SPFs block slightly more of the sun’s rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays. Currently, there is not any scientific evidence that indicates using a sunscreen with an SPF higher than 50 can protect you better than a sunscreen with an SPF of 50. Importantly, one must remember that high-number SPFs last the same amount of time as low-number SPFs. A high-number SPF does not allow you to spend additional time outdoors without re-application. All sunscreens should be applied approximately every two hours or according to time on the label, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, where doctors diagnose more cases every year than all other cancers combined. The number of skin cancer cases has been going up over the past few decades.
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to UV rays. Most of this exposure comes from the sun, but some may come from man-made sources, such as indoor tanning beds and sun lamps.
Fortunately you can do a lot to protect yourself and your family from skin cancer through early detection. X-rays and blood tests are not needed to detect skin cancer early just your eyes and a mirror. If you have skin cancer, early detection is the best way to ensure successful treatment of the disease.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer starts in the cells of the skin. Some other types of cancer start in other parts of the body and can spread to the skin, but these are not skin cancers.
There are 3 main types of skin cancers:
How Many People Get Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. About 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.
According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma, a more dangerous type of skin cancer, accounted for roughly 73,000 cases of skin cancer in 2015.
What are Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers?
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are by far the most common cancers of the skin. Both are found mainly on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the head and neck. These cancers are strongly related to a person’s sun exposure.
According to the American Cancer Society, basal and squamous cell cancers are much less likely than melanomas to spread to other parts of the body and become life threatening. Still, it’s important to find and treat them early. If left alone, they can grow larger and invade nearby tissues and organs, causing scarring, deformity, or even loss of function in some parts of the body. Some of these cancers (especially squamous cell cancers) can spread if not treated, and in some cases they can be fatal.
What is Skin Melanoma?
Melanomas develop from melanocytes, the cells that make the brown pigment that gives skin its color. Melanocytes can also form benign (non-cancerous) growths called moles. (Your doctor might call the mole a nevus.)
Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, but are more likely to start in certain areas. The most common place for men to find melanoma is the trunk (chest and back) while women more often have melanomas on the legs. The neck and face are other common places for melanoma to start.
Melanomas are not as common as basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers, but they can be far more serious. Like basal cell and squamous cell cancers, melanoma is almost always curable in its early stages. But left alone, melanoma is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body, where it can be very hard to treat.
What are the Other Skin Cancers?
There are many other types of skin cancers as well, but they are much less common:
Together, these types account for less than 1% of all skin cancers.
It’s important for doctors to tell the types of skin cancer apart, because they are treated differently. It’s also important for you to know what skin cancers look like. This can help you find them at the earliest possible stage, when they are cured most easily.
What are the Risk Factors for Skin Cancer?
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer can be found early, and both people and their doctors play important roles in finding skin cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor:
How do I Protect Myself from UV rays?
Use sunscreen, like Vertra’s “Elemental Resistance” products, to help prevent skin cancer.
While sunscreen protects your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, sunscreen is just a filter that does not block all UV rays. Sunscreen should not be used as a way to prolong your time in the sun. Even with proper sunscreen use, some UV rays get through, so other forms of sun protection are also important.
Sunscreens are available in many forms (lotions, creams, ointments, gels, sprays, wipes, and lip balms, to name a few). Some cosmetics, such as moisturizers, lipsticks and foundations, are considered sunscreen products if they have sunscreen. Some makeup contains sunscreen, but you have to check the label (makeup, including lipstick, without sunscreen does not provide sun protection).
Read The Labels!
When choosing a sunscreen product, always read the label. Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and with sun protection factor (SPF) values of 30 or higher are recommended.
The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn. A higher SPF number means more UVB protection, but says nothing about UVA protection. For example, correctly applied SPF 30 sunscreen gives you get the equivalent of 1 minute of UVB rays for each 30 minutes you spend in the sun. So, 1 hour in the sun wearing SPF 30 sunscreen is the same as spending 2 minutes totally unprotected. People often do not apply enough sunscreen, so they get less actual protection.
Sunscreens labeled with SPFs as high as 100+ are available. Higher numbers do mean more protection, but many people don’t understand the SPF scale. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%. The higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes and no sunscreen protects you completely.
Sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 must now include a warning on the label stating that the product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.
Broad Spectrum Sunscreen: Sunscreen products can only be labeled “broad spectrum” if they have been tested and shown to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Some of the chemicals in sunscreens that help protect against UVA rays include avobenzone (Parsol 1789), ecamsule, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide. Only broad spectrum sunscreen products with an SPF of 15 or higher can state that they help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.
Water Resistant Sunscreen: Sunscreens can no longer allowed be labeled as “waterproof” or “sweat proof” because these terms are misleading. Sunscreens that claim to be “water resistant,” must state whether the protection lasts for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, based on tests.
Expiration Dates: Check the expiration date on the sunscreen to ensure that the product has not expired. Most sunscreen products are good for at least 2 to 3 years, but you may need to shake the bottle to remix the sunscreen ingredients. Sunscreens that have been exposed to heat for long periods, such as if they were kept in a glove box or car trunk through the summer, may be less effective.
What is ultraviolet (UV) radiation?
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a major risk factor for most skin cancers. Sunlight is the main source of UV rays. Tanning lamps and beds are also sources of UV rays. People who get a lot of UV exposure from these sources are at greater risk for skin cancer.
Even though UV rays make up only a very small portion of the sun’s rays, they are the main cause of the sun’s damaging effects on the skin. UV rays damage the DNA of skin cells. Skin cancers start when this damage affects the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth.
There are 3 main types of UV rays:
Both UVA and UVB rays can damage skin and cause skin cancer. UVB rays are a more potent cause of at least some skin cancers, but based on what’s known today, there are no safe UV rays.
The strength of the UV rays reaching the ground depends on a number of factors, such as:
People who live in areas with year-round, bright sunlight have a higher risk of skin cancer. Spending a lot of time outdoors for work or recreation without protective clothing and sunscreen increases your risk.
The pattern of exposure may also be important. For example, frequent sunburns in childhood may increase the risk for some types of skin cancer many years or even decades later.
Skin cancers are one result of getting too much sun, but there are other effects as well. Sunburn and tanning are the short-term results of too much exposure to UV rays, and are signs of skin damage. Long-term exposure can cause early skin aging, wrinkles, loss of skin elasticity, dark patches (lentigos, sometimes called age spots or liver spots), and pre-cancerous skin changes (such as dry, scaly, rough patches called actinic keratosis).
The sun’s UV rays increase a person’s risk of cataracts and certain other eye problems, too. They can also suppress the skin’s immune system. Darker-skinned people are generally less likely to get skin cancer than light-skinned people, but they can still get cataracts and immune suppression.
The UV Index
As noted above, the amount of UV light reaching the ground in any given place depends on a number of factors, including the time of day, time of year, elevation, and cloud cover. To help people better understand the strength of UV light in their area on a given day, the National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have developed the UV Index. It gives people an idea of how strong the UV light is in their area, on a scale from 1 to 11+. A higher number means greater risk of exposure to UV rays and a higher chance of sunburn and skin damage that could ultimately lead to skin cancer.
The UV Index is given daily for regions throughout the country. Many newspaper, television, online, and smartphone weather forecasts include the projected UV Index. Further information about the UV Index, as well as your local UV Index forecast, can be found on the EPA’s website at www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html. Smartphone apps are available from the EPA at www.epa.gov/enviro/mobile. As with any forecast, local changes in cloud cover and other factors could change the actual UV levels experienced.
The information and advice provided here are general in nature and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You are strongly encouraged to seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions regarding a medical condition.