Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world.  Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is the most common cancer among people ages 25-29 and the second most common cancer among people ages 15-29.  The majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation.  Most people are exposed to UV radiation through sunlight or tanning beds.

You can protect yourself from this radiation in several ways:

  1. DO NOT USE tanning beds!
  2. Avoid being in the sun between the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  3. Wear sun protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, shirts with long sleeves, full-length pants and sunglasses.
  4. ALWAYS wear sunscreen.

Although most people know about sunscreen, there are many misconceptions. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced new rules for the labeling of sunscreen.  These new regulations, which will be enforced by the summer of 2012, are designed to help consumers make more informed decisions about which sunscreen to buy.

Most consumers know that sun protection factor measures how well a sunscreen protects you from the sun.  Although SPF does measure a sunscreen’s ability to reduce your risk of sunburn, it tells you nothing about how well it protects against skin cancer and premature aging.  The FDA will now test sunscreens for this.  Sunscreens that pass this test will be labeled “broad spectrum” under the FDA’s regulations.  Any broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater will have a label stating that this product may reduce the risk of skin cancer, premature aging and sunburn when used as directed.  Until regulations are enforced, look for a sunscreen that contains one or more of the following ingredients: zinc oxide, titanium dioxide or stabilized avobenzone. These ingredients have been proven to protect against cancer-causing rays. I also recommend choosing a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or greater.  But, sunscreen with an SPF greater than 50 does not offer better protection than an SPF of 50. The FDA may forbid the labeling of sunscreens with an SPF greater than 50 in the future.

Even though you can easily find the best sunscreen, it won’t help you if you don’t use it correctly.  Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes before exposure to sunlight and should be reapplied at least every two hours.  Sunscreen should be reapplied more often when you are in the water or sweating.  Although the new FDA regulations will forbid the labeling of sunscreens as “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” there are some sunscreens that maintain a good level of protection in the water or when sweating.  These will be labeled as being “water resistant” and must include instructions for how often they should be reapplied.

Remember, these rules and recommendations apply to everyone in the family except those under the age of 6 months. These little ones should be kept out of the sun completely!

~ Brenda Hasse, PA-C, pediatric dermatology physician assistant, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin
Brenda Hasse, PA-C

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