How "Sun Doctors" Prevent Skin Cancer?
Don't settle for a sunscreen you don't like
"Some of my friends ask me, 'What's the "best" sunscreen?' But what I've learned as a dermatologist is that liking how a sunscreen feels on your skin and smells are the most important criteria in determining whether someone will use it regularly. So I tell my friends that they need to try several kinds until they find their favorite. Sure, there are certain musts: Regardless of whether you choose a chemical or an organic sunscreen-and for the record, the FDA approves both kinds for safety--you need an SPF of 30 to 50 with broad-spectrum protection that covers both UVA and UVB rays. Also keep in mind that you need to use adequate amounts to achieve the rated SPF. But beyond that, finding the 'best' sunscreen is just a matter of what you like." -Lisa Garner, M.D., clinical professor in the department of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology
Once and for all: Clouds don't count as SPF!
"I went on vacation in the Caribbean with some close friends recently and we had a ball, enjoying lots of outdoor activities. Some of my friends were having so much fun that they started getting lax about sun protection. One of them said to me when we were on the beach one day, 'I didn't bother to put sunscreen on today, because, look, it's cloudy.' Well, wouldn't you know, the result was a sunburn! I think that lazy summertime feeling we all enjoy so much distracts some people from remembering that they need to protect themselves every time they're outside. It doesn't matter whether you're in the blazing sun or if the weather is blah-thinking you can't suffer sun damage on a cloudy day is a totally false sense of security. Coat yourself with SPF before heading outdoors, and make sure your friends do too. Call me the sunscreen police, but I'm always ready to pull sunscreen out of my bag at a moment's notice and say, 'Here's the bottle'---no excuses! I nag because I care." -Anne Chapas, M.D., founder of Union Square Laser Dermatology in New York City
Your office could be giving you wrinkles
"Women I know often don't realize that the sun you get reflectively--like through the glass of your car windshield or office window--can be exposing you to UV rays that are giving you wrinkles. Sun damage occurs two ways, simultaneously: UV rays damage the top layer of your skin, which often creates things like skin growths, skin cancer, and age spots; meanwhile, the sun damages the middle layer of your skin, where collagen lives. Once that collagen gets broken down, a wrinkle appears. Broad-spectrum sunscreen is your first line of defense. And pay attention to how much sun you get in your car, home, and office. Adjust the blinds or your seat accordingly." -Lisa Chipps, M.D., fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology
There's no such thing as a "healthy tan"
"I'm a two-time survivor of skin cancer myself, so I am careful to practice sun-safe behaviors and to constantly remind my family to do the same. A number of years ago, I returned from a business trip and saw a female relative who was as red as a beet. Turned out, she had gone to a tanning salon while I was gone. She has very fair skin and had gotten especially bad skin damage. I wish she had discussed this with me before she went! One study even found that tanning beds can raise your risk of developing melanoma by 75 percent if you started using them before age 30. The damage that tanning beds do can take years or even decades to cause skin cancer, too, so if you've used them in the past, be vigilant about checking your skin regularly. Bottom line: A 'healthy glow' doesn't exist-tanning is the skin's response to damage, not a sign of health, so avoid getting a tan, indoors or out." -Leonard Lichtenfeld, M.D., deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society
Don't rely on the SPF in your foundation
"My mother and aunts often ask me questions about sun protection in the beauty products they already use, like their foundation or moisturizer. The truth is, the SPF you'll see on these labels won't be sufficient to protect you from sun damage. This is because when something like a foundation with SPF is tested, a much thicker layer of the product is used in the lab--you'd never actually put on enough of it to give you adequate sun protection. So cut the amount of SPF you see on your makeup label in half: If the product says it contains SPF 30, only count on protection of SPF 15. Buy the SPF foundation if you like it for the makeup qualities, but not for the sun-care ones! As I tell my relatives, you shouldn't depend on the SPF in your makeup to protect you--rely instead on applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 to 60 every day." -Anna Chien, M.D., assistant professor of dermatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore
You can't afford to be cheap about sunscreen
"I tell friends that effective, reliable sunscreens may be more costly than some consumers expect, but they should be added to your budget--skin-cancer prevention is more cost-effective than treatment! Don't use generic sunscreen from the dollar store. I've seen several patients use these sunscreens appropriately and they still got a sunburn--just don't risk it. Also, if you're using enough sunscreen, you'll have to buy it frequently; depending on how much comes in the tube, it could be as often as once a week. Every time you apply it, cover every part of your exposed skin, including your ears, your lips, the back of your neck, everywhere! Also, teach your kids the importance of applying sunscreen themselves. I'm such a fanatic about this. If my boys didn't slather on sunscreen when we went to our local water park, the rule was that if they got a sunburn, they could not go back for a week. Worked great--they didn't get burned." -Garner
Be protected, not paranoid
"Some people I know are so worried about skin cancer that they think they need to avoid the sun completely. I encourage everyone to live their lives while also having a healthy respect for the sun. I'd never say to a friend or relative, 'Don't go to the beach, ever.' As long as you use sun smarts, you don't have to lock yourself indoors. Just make sure you're following the sunscreen musts, and try to limit your time in the sun during its peak hours--from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. That's a great time to go have a nice leisurely lunch or do some shopping anyway. While you're at it, invest in a beach umbrella and a wide-brimmed hat!" -Jennifer Lucas, M.D., dermatologic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland and a member of the American Academy of Dermatology