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Sunscreen and Summer Sun Safety

M. D. Anderson, Randalls Promote Sun Safety, Cancer Prevention

M. D. Anderson News Release 05/08/07
One of the best sun safety tips is to use sunscreen when spending time outdoors. However, the proper application of sunscreen is just as important to obtain the maximum benefits of sun protection.

As part of National Skin Cancer Awareness Month this May, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is encouraging everyone to learn more about the proper application of sunscreen to lower their lifetime risk of developing skin cancer.

"Many associate a suntan with good health and vitality; however, 95% of all skin cancers are caused by the sun," says Carol Drucker, M.D. , associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at M. D. Anderson. "While the sun does provide Vitamin D, just a small amount of sunlight - not a suntan - is needed to meet the body's needs and regular use of sunscreen is a great way to limit that exposure."

Below is M. D. Anderson's response to several common questions about sunscreen application and protection.

  1. Is there a significant difference in protection among SPF 15, 30 and 45?
    SPF (Sun Protection Factor) does not increase proportionately with the designated SPF number. For example, SPF 15 absorbs 93% of the sun's burning rays, while SPF 30 absorbs 97%. The SPF number on sunscreens only reflects the product's screening ability for UVB rays. At present, there is no FDA approved rating system that identifies UVA protection
  2. Can children use the same type of sunscreen as adults or should parents purchase sunscreen made especially for them?
    Children over six months can use the same sunscreen as adults. For infants younger than six months, just cover them up!
  3. Are there specific instructions from health care professionals on how to apply sunscreen? If yes, what are they?
    Sunscreen should be applied to dry skin 15-30 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours. One ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) is considered the amount needed to properly cover the exposed areas of the body. Lips can get sunburned too, so it is important to apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  4. Are all sunscreens safe to use on a daily basis?
    All sunscreens are safe to use on a daily basis. No evidence exists that suggests daily use of sunscreen is unsafe. People also have asked about sunscreens being too effective and contributing to vitamin D deficiency. This is unlikely because regular sunscreen use does not eliminate sun exposure. Taking a daily supplement of vitamin D can further alleviate concerns about this issue.
  5. Are there certain environmental conditions that affect sunscreen efficacy? 
    Because an SPF measurement is the most protection a person can receive under the best possible conditions, sunscreens often do not perform up to labeled SPF ratings. This is caused by a variety of factors, including the effects of wind, humidity, perspiration and facial movement, as well as uneven product application. Many people also wait too long to reapply.

"Most people have the misconception that sunscreen use allows a person to spend unlimited time in the sun," says Drucker. "Properly applying sunscreen on a regular basis greatly reduces a person's exposure to the sun's harmful rays but it does not eliminate sun exposure, so it is a good idea to take additional sun safety precautions." 

In addition to wearing sunscreen, Drucker recommends that everyone follow these sun protection guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • Avoid outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • Seek shade whenever possible.
  • Wear protective clothing and accessories, such as wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
  • Follow the "Shadow Rule." If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun's damaging rays are at their strongest and you are likely to sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning beds.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than one million cases of basal cell or squamous cell cancers, the most common types of skin cancer, occur annually. The most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma, of which more than 60,000 people are expected to be diagnosed in 2007.

Consumers visiting the pharmacy section of Houston-area Randalls' supermarkets during May will have access to free M. D. Anderson information cards with additional suggestions on preventing skin cancer and sun safety tips.

To schedule a skin screening exam, contact M. D. Anderson's Cancer Prevention Center at 1-800-438-6434.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center