The lazy days of summer are here and for many people that means it's time to enjoy the outdoors and get a tan. But before you plan to soak up the sun, you might want to re-think your plans.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), 50 percent of all newly diagnosed cancers are skin cancers, which means that approximately 1.3 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States each year. Many dermatologists, cancer specialists and anti-aging experts are also warning people that it's more than just the sunburn-causing, tan-inducing Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that people must guard against now in order to prevent cancer. Studies have shown that UVA rays, long thought to be the culprit in premature wrinkling, can also alter skin cells' DNA and cause mutations that may also lead to cancer, just like UVB rays.
But if you think the solution is to slather on more sunscreen - think again. Most sunscreens available in the U.S. are only good at blocking UVB radiation and do little to filter UVA. That's because UVA's role as a cancer-causing agent was unknown for so long that neither doctors nor the general public demanded a sunscreen that was effective at blocking both forms of radiation. Now, the AAD, the Food and Drug Administration and even sunscreen manufacturers all agree that people should have access to a sunscreen that is effective at filtering both UVA and UVB. The problem is that sunscreen ingredients are regarded as drugs in the U.S. and are therefore subject to extensive research and testing before they can ever be brought to market. While this helps ensure the safety of the average consumer, it also means that many products will not be available in the U.S. for years to come.
What's a sun-lover to do in the meantime? Here are some tips to help keep your skin safe:
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. when its rays are strongest.
- Use sunscreen on cloudy days. UV rays can penetrate cloud cover.
- Put sunscreen on indoors 20-30 minutes before you go outside. This gives the chemicals time to soak in your skin and become activated.
- Use lip balm with sunscreen - your lips contain no protective melanin and can burn easily.
- Avoid prolonged exposure to reflective surfaces such as water and sand, which can reflect as much as 85 percent of the sun's rays.
- Be aware that certain medications, such as antibiotics or antimalarial drugs, can dramatically increase sun sensitivity. Be sure to check with your doctor.
- Don't forget the kids! According to recent studies, 80 percent of sun damage happens to a person's skin before they reach the age of 18 so be sure they are protected. But don't ever use sunscreen on a baby under six months of age; make sure they are completely covered and wear a hat.
The only way to ensure that your skin will not suffer any damage, however, is to cover up and avoid the sun as much as possible. Be sun smart - don't compromise your long-term health for short-term cosmetic benefits.