The Importance of Sunscreen: How to Select, Apply, and Use It Correctly

Now that the warm weather’s finally upon us, it’s important to remember that while we may love the outdoors, going to the beach and how we look with a tan, there are serious consequences when we get too much sun exposure. Overexposure to the sun causes sunburn, premature aging of the skin, wrinkling, and skin cancer, including melanoma. Here are tips to help you enjoy the outdoors without hurting yourself.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and the leading cause of death from skin disease. Melanoma can spread very rapidly. Although it is less common than other types of skin cancer, the rate of melanoma is steadily increasing.

The development of melanoma is related to sun exposure or ultraviolet radiation, particularly among people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair. The risk of developing melanoma increases with age. However, the disease also frequently affects young, otherwise healthy people.

Risks for melanoma include the following:

  • Living in sunny climates or at high altitudes
  • Long-term exposure to high levels of strong sunlight, because of a job or other activities
  • One or more blistering sunburns during childhood
  • Use of tanning devices

Unprotected sun exposure is dangerous

Sunlight consists of ultraviolet (UV) rays, as well as related rays such as UVA, UVB, and UVC.

  • UVA rays are present throughout the day and are the most important cause of premature aging of the skin. In addition, UVA rays are responsible for photosensitivity reactions and also contribute to skin cancer.
  • UVB rays are most intense from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm and are most responsible for sunburn and skin cancer development.
  • UVC rays are filtered by the ozone layer and do not reach the earth’s surface.

Increased exposure to UV radiation occurs nearer the equator, during summer months, at higher elevation and during peak daylight. Reflection from the snow, sand, and water increases exposure, a particularly important consideration for beach activities, skiing, swimming, and sailing. You can limit your dangerous exposure and help prevent burns and long-term damage by covering exposed areas when possible, wearing hats, and using the wide variety of sunscreens available in most stores and pharmacies.

When to apply sunscreen

  • Apply sunscreen approximately 30 minutes before being in the sun (for best results) so that it can be absorbed by the skin and less likely to wash off when you perspire.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen after swimming or strenuous exercise.
  • Apply sunscreen often throughout the day if you work outdoors, and wear hats and protective clothing.

How to apply sunscreen

  • Shake well before use to mix particles that might be clumped up in the container. Consider using the new spray-on or stick types of sunscreen.
  • Be sure to apply enough sunscreen. As a rule of thumb, use an ounce (a handful) to cover your entire body.
  • Use on all parts of your skin exposed to the sun, including the ears, back, shoulders, and the back of the knees and legs.
  • Apply thickly and thoroughly.
  • Be careful when applying sunscreen around the eyes.

What to look for when you buy sunscreen

  • Pick a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against UV-A and UV-B rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
  • Read product labels. Look for a waterproof brand if you will be sweating or swimming. Buy a non-stinging product or one specifically formulated for your face.
  • Buy a brand that does not contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) if you are sensitive to that ingredient.
  • Try a sunscreen with different chemicals if your skin reacts badly to the one that you are using. Not all sunscreens have the same ingredients.
  • Use a water-based sunscreen if you have oily skin or are prone to acne.
  • Be aware that more expensive does not mean better. Although a costly brand might feel or smell better, it is not necessarily more effective than a cheaper product.
  • Be aware of the expiration date because some sunscreen ingredients might degrade over time.

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. Employees in this program have access to tools and information that can help improve their overall physical and mental well-being. The program is free to both you and your employees as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!