Have fun in the sun, but keep the sunscreen on – and at hand

People eagerly await the days until they can enjoy the beautiful summer weather and now the season is in full swing with a month to go before Labor Day. However, before hitting the trails, the water, the court, or the beach this month, remember to apply sunscreen, a crucial step to combat overexposure to the sun.

While the sun, which is strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., offers health benefits, too much exposure can lead to painful and dangerous conditions, including, but not limited to, sunburn, wrinkles, premature aging, and skin cancer, all of them caused by the sun’s Ultraviolet (UV) rays.

UV rays are strongest during the summertime. Even on a cloudy day, it is easy to get sunburned because clouds do not block these rays. There are two types of UV rays: UVA and UVB rays. The UVA type permeates deep into the skin and can cause visual changes in color and aging, while UVB rays affect the skin’s surface and can cause sunburn.

Sunscreen works by absorbing and reflecting both UVA and UVB rays. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) represents the strength of sunscreen by indicating the amount of sunburn protection for the average user.

The FDA recommends using sunscreen labeled “Broad Spectrum,” which means it includes ingredients that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and SPF 15 or higher, which applies specifically to protection from UVB rays.

These labels together indicate that the sunscreen protects against all of the side effects of sun exposure. Despite these recommendations, there are still significant misconceptions about exactly what strength of sunscreen is appropriate, and what SPF means.

SPF 15 is the recommended minimum strength of sunscreen, and protects against 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. But that does not mean SPF 30 protects skin twice as much. Anything higher than SPF 15 only provides a minimal increase in sun protection. In fact, SPF 30 only protects against 97 percent of the sun’s rays.

Before putting on sunscreen, make sure to check the expiration date. It lasts three years on the shelf. After applying sunscreen, it’s important to keep a supply on hand during summer adventures. Sunscreen wears off, so it’s important to reapply every two hours to prevent oneself from soaking up too many rays.
In addition to sunscreen, staying in the shade and wearing sunglasses and a hat are effective ways to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

To make an appointment with one of Carney Hospital’s physicians or dermatology specialists, call 800-488-5959 or visit steward.org/doctorfinder.

Bryan McGuirk, MD, is a primary care physician and faculty member with the Carney Hospital Internal Medicine Residency Program.