Sun safety tips

With the sun beating down on the Valley of the Sun, it is a good time to review some essential sun safety tips and sunscreen best practices. If you live in Arizona, it will come as no surprise that sunscreen is a must year-round. With more than 300 days of sunshine annually, Arizonans are exposed to more UV rays than most Americans. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, and it is primarily caused by overexposure to UV rays.

Andrew Newman, DO, a dermatologist and independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff, shares information to help you stay safe in the sun.

What should I look for in a sunscreen?

The best sunscreen is the one that you will wear. However, there are some things to look for to make sure you are getting the protection you need.

Look for sunscreens with:

  • SPF 30 or higher¬†
  • Broad-spectrum protection against UVA/UVB rays
  • Water-resistance¬†

There are both chemical and physical sunscreens that you can choose from as well as some hybrids. What you pick is up to your preference. When applied correctly, both chemical and physical sunscreens offer effective sun protection. 

If you are concerned about the chemicals or have sensitive skin, then a mineral-based sunscreen might be a better choice. Physical sunscreens typically contain the minerals zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

How to protect yourself properly

Many people do not use enough sunscreen for it to be entirely effective. Additionally, many people do not know that they have to reapply their sunscreen every couple of hours to maintain its effectiveness! Here are a few tips:

How to apply sunscreen:

  • Apply a nickel-sized amount to your face
  • To cover your entire body, use an ounce of sunscreen (or enough to fill a shot glass).
  • Apply sunscreen 20-30 minutes before going outside.
  • Make sure to protect often missed and delicate spots like ears, scalp, lips, backs of hands, tops of feet and the back of your neck.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours.

When you are outside:

  • Avoid direct exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and sun-protective sleeves.

Make sure to pay attention to the expiration date of your sunscreen, and do not leave it in your car because the heat can deactivate it!

Supplements to reduce skin cancer risk

Did you know that you can protect yourself from the damaging effects of sun exposure by taking an oral supplement? Look for a supplement derived from a tropical fern called the polypodium leucotomos, which decreases your risk of non-melanoma skin cancer by 30% when taken every day. Niacinamide (also known as vitamin B3) decreases your risk of non-melanoma skin cancer by 23% when taken twice daily. These supplements are inexpensive and easy to find at local drugstores or online.

Get your skin checked annually

Although skin cancer is the most common form of cancer, it is also one of the most preventable. It is recommended to have an annual skin examination with your dermatologist to look for any unusual moles, spots or changes to the skin. The good news is that 99% of all skin cancers are curable if caught early enough.

Since early detection is key, you should be conducting a self-exam of your skin at least once a month. Use a full-length mirror to document the moles on your body so that you can easily detect changes or causes for concern. A hand mirror is useful to check your neck, scalp and back area. Keep in mind that skin cancer can form anywhere on the skin, not just on the sun-exposed areas. Spots can grow rapidly, so if you see something unusual contact your dermatologist because skin cancer symptoms are not always easy to identify on your own.

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