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Seven tips to avoid a sunburn this summer


The best sunscreen is sunscreen that is worn every day.

Wearing sunscreen daily in a moisturizer is an easy way to provide sun protection for your skin every day. Recent studies have shown that wearing a daily sunscreen with a moisturizer not only protects the skin from photoaging but also reverses some of these changes.

Many people who work indoors don’t realize how much sun exposure their skin gets just from walking to and from their cars in the morning and evening. Even that seemingly small amount of sun exposure can contribute to the risk of skin cancer and photo-aging of the skin over time. If you use a moisturizer containing sunscreen, it is still important to reapply sunscreen if you will be out in the sun for a prolonged period of time. 

Here are seven tips to avoid a sunburn:

1. Know your SPF: Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a multiplier of the time it takes to sunburn. SPF numbers represent the approximate amount of time a person who has applied sunscreen can stay in the sun without getting burned. For example, if a patient would burn in 5 minutes without any sunscreen, they would burn in 50 minutes if they wore an SPF 10 sunscreen.

2. Apply the right amount: Most people apply sunscreen with a thickness that is approximately one-half of the thicknesses which are used to test sunscreens to determine their SPF.  This means that in actual use, most sunscreens only provide approximately fifty-percent of their listed SPF. As such, applying the sunscreen twice to provide the correct thickness or using higher SPF sunscreens (SPF 50 to 60) is recommended.

3. Consider spray: Spray-on sunscreens work well, especially because they are so easy to apply. However, since they are applied more thinly a higher SPF is recommended for better protection. In addition, it it important to cover the entire exposed skin area and rub the sunscreen in for better protection.

4. Re-apply: Sunscreen does need to be reapplied regularly if you are in the sun for an extended period of time. Regular sunscreen needs to be reapplied every three to four hours. Water-resistant sunscreen needs to be reapplied at the increments specified on the bottle for effective and long-lasting protection.

5. Clothing: UV-protective clothing and fabrics are becoming increasingly available in stores. They have a sunscreen built into the fabric. UV protective clothing is measured using Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). UPF is different than SPF because it measures the percentage of the UV radiation which penetrates the fabric and is not measured based upon sunburns.

Clothing with a UPF of 50 allows 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays to pass through. As such, ninety-eight percent of the UV rays are blocked. The major advantage of UV protective clothing is that it doesn’t need to be reapplied. Long-sleeve UV protective clothing is particularly useful for long sun exposure like running, golfing or mowing the lawn. Many athletic apparel companies are creating UV-protective fabrics which are also moisture-wicking to make them more comfortable in hot weather.

6. Protect your face: Baseball-style and broad-brimmed hats are an excellent option for head and face protection for men and women. Men who are balding often forget to apply sunscreen to the areas of their head where their hair is thinning, leaving them exposed to burns and eventually skin cancer. Many adults and parents applying sunscreen to their children forget to apply sunscreen to their ears.

7. Check the date: Before using sunscreen, be sure to check the expiration date. The expiration date indicates when the SPF coverage is no longer valid potentially leaving the wearer unknowingly exposed to the sun.

Sun protection on all exposed skin — even if it doesn’t typically burn — is very important. The most common spot for melanoma on women is on their lower legs. For men it’s on their stomach, chest and backs. The strongest rays are out between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., so avoiding the sun during those peak hours will also help to decrease the risk of sunburn.

About Brandon Litzner MD

Brandon Litzner, MD, is a dermatologist with Ascension Medical Group.