As we welcome the summer season, it’s crucial to remember that sun safety is a year-round commitment. The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause not only sunburn but also premature skin aging, eye damage, and even skin cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States. Whatever the weather or your geographical location, protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is essential.
The Rising Threat of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer rates are escalating in the U.S., with the National Cancer Institute estimating 99,780 new cases of skin melanomas and 7,650 related deaths in 2022. Furthermore, about 4.3 million people are treated for basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common types of skin cancer, each year. These alarming statistics underscore the need for effective sun protection strategies.
The Role of Sunscreen
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to assess sunscreen products to ensure their safety and efficacy. Sunscreens, particularly broad-spectrum products with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, can shield us from sunburn and reduce the risk of skin cancer and premature skin aging.
However, it’s important to note that some spray sunscreens have recently been recalled due to benzene contamination. The FDA advises consumers to avoid using recalled sunscreens and to continue using sunscreen, along with other sun protection measures, to mitigate risks from sun exposure.
Reducing Your Risk: Practical Tips
Sun damage is primarily caused by invisible UV radiation. Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce your risk:
– Limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are most intense.
– Wear sun-protective clothing, such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, sunglasses, and broad-brim hats.
– Use broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF value of 15 or higher regularly and as directed.
– Consult a healthcare professional before applying sunscreen to infants younger than six months.
Remember, no sunscreen can completely block UV radiation. Therefore, additional protections, such as protective clothing, sunglasses, and staying in the shade, are necessary.
Understanding Sunscreen Labels
All sunscreens protect against sunburn, but only broad-spectrum sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 have been shown to reduce the risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. Here’s what you need to know when reading sunscreen labels:
– Products that pass the FDA’s broad-spectrum requirements can be labeled “broad spectrum.”
– Sunscreens that are not broad spectrum or lack an SPF of at least 15 must carry a warning about skin cancer and early skin aging risks.
– Water resistance claims, for 40 or 80 minutes, indicate how long you can expect to get the labeled SPF-level of protection while swimming or sweating.
– Manufacturers may not claim that their sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweat proof.”
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Protecting Your Eyes with Sunglasses
UV radiation can also harm your eyes, especially when it reflects off sand, water, or snow. Sunglasses with a UV400 rating or “100% UV protection” can shield your eyes from over 99% of UVA and UVB radiation. Remember, the darkness of the lens does not indicate its UV protection capability. Even if you wear UV-absorbing contact lenses, you should still wear quality sunglasses that offer UV protection.
The Future of Sun Protection
The FDA is committed to ensuring that safe and effective sunscreen products are available for consumer use. It has proposed that all sunscreen products with SPF values of 15 and above must be broad spectrum, and thatas the SPF of these products increases, broad-spectrum protection should also increase. The FDA is also considering changes to the labeling of SPF values to make it easier for consumers to compare and choose sunscreen.
Risk Factors for Harmful Effects of UV Radiation
While everyone is potentially at risk for sunburn and other harmful effects of UV radiation, some people are more susceptible. These include individuals with pale skin, blond, red, or light brown hair, those who have been treated for skin cancer, and those with a family history of skin cancer. Certain medications may also increase sun sensitivity, so it’s important to consult with your healthcare professional about sun-care precautions.
Even on an overcast day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate the clouds. Therefore, it’s essential to stay in the shade as much as possible and to use sun protection measures consistently. Remember, sun safety is not just for the summer; it’s a year-round commitment. By understanding the risks and taking the necessary precautions, we can enjoy the sun safely and protect our skin for years to come.
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