Aug 29, 2009

Preventing overexposure and reducing skin cancer risk

Excessive exposure to direct sunlight is considered potentially harmful to a person's health. To avoid sunburn a person should stay out of the sun for long periods of time. If long sun exposure cannot be avoided or is desired one may cover themselves or use sunscreen or various over-the-counter creams to reduce the risks from UVA and UVB exposure. The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) number on a sunscreen product shows its rated effectiveness. Products with a higher SPF number provide greater protection against ultraviolet radiation. However in 1998, the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science reported that some sunscreens advertising UVA and UVB protection do not provide adequate safety from UVA radiation and could give sun tanners a false sense of protection.

For those who choose to tan, some dermatologists recommend the following preventative measures:

* Make sure the sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays. These types of sunscreens, called broad-spectrum sunscreens, contain more active ingredients. Ideally a sunscreen should also be hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic so it doesn't cause a rash or clog the pores, which can cause acne.

* Sunscreen needs to be applied thickly enough to make a difference. People often do not put on enough sunscreen to get the full SPF protection. In case of uncertainty about how much product to use, or discomfort with the amount applied, switching to a sunscreen with a higher SPF may help.

* Research has shown that the best protection is achieved by application 15 to 30 minutes before exposure, followed by one reapplication 15 to 30 minutes after the sun exposure begins. Further reapplication is only necessary after activities such as swimming, sweating, and rubbing.

* The rays of the sun are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m , so frequent shade breaks are recommended during these hours. Sun rays are stronger at higher elevations (mountains) and lower latitudes (near the equator). One way to deal with time zones, daylight saving time (summer time) and latitude is to check shadow length. If a person's shadow is shorter than their actual height, the risk of sunburn is much higher.

* Wear a hat with a brim and anti-UV sunglasses, which can provide almost 100% protection against ultraviolet radiation entering the eyes.

* Be aware that reflective surfaces like snow and water can greatly increase the amount of UV radiation to which the skin is exposed.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of sunscreens, wearing sun protective clothing and avoiding the sun altogether.