Remember those days when summer meant baking in the sun after slathering on a baby-oil-and-iodine mixture? Virtually no one makes that mistake any longer! Certainly no one who wants to avoid the dangerous effects of too much sun.
But even with the advent of sunscreen, far too many people are unknowingly increasing their risk for skin cancer.
Sobering facts: Fewer than 15% of men and 30% of women even bother to use sunscreen regularly on their faces and other exposed skin when they are outside for more than an hour, yet the effect can be devastating. In 2019, melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, is expected to be diagnosed in nearly 100,000 Americans. Meanwhile, more than three million Americans are diagnosed each year with other types of skin cancer. To help protect your precious skin, avoid these mistakes…
Mistake #1: You neglect this vulnerable spot. Your eyelids occupy a relatively small part of your body, but thanks to their combination of extremely thin, delicate skin and near-constant ultraviolet (UV) exposure, about 10% of all skin cancers occur there. Scientists may now have an explanation.
In research published in PLOS ONE, study participants failed to cover 10% of their faces, on average. And the most frequently neglected area was—you guessed it—the eyelids…and the area located between the inner corners of the eyes and the bridge of the nose.
Not surprisingly, several study participants said that they left those hot spots unprotected out of concern that sunscreen would sting their eyes.
Solution: Choose a gentle sunscreen lotion or cream.
What to try: SkinCeuticals Physical Eye UV Defense, SPF 50 (SkinCeuticals.com)…or “tear-free” Neutrogena Pure & Free Baby Sunscreen, SPF 50 (Neutrogena.com). Note: Even though these products can be used on the eyelids, keep them out of your eyes.
Don’t forget: Sunglasses also help protect the eyelids—and your eyesight. At least 10% of cataract cases can be directly attributed to UV exposure. Look for sunglasses that block 99% or 100% of UV rays.
Mistake #2: You don’t wear sun-protective clothing. Ask a dermatologist for his/her favorite UV-protection tip, and you might be surprised to hear “cover up with clothing” just as often as you hear “wear sunscreen.”
Even though you get some protection from regular shirts and pants—think dark-colored synthetic or tightly woven fabrics—“sun-protective clothing” does a far better job. This clothing is rated with a UPF, which stands for Ultraviolet Protection Factor and represents the amount of UVA and UVB rays that can penetrate a particular fabric. A UPF of 50 allows only one-fiftieth of UV radiation to reach the skin.
What to try: Solumbra by Sun Precautions (SunPrecautions.com) has clothing options for men and women.
Don’t forget a hat: Golf and baseball caps don’t protect the ears from sun exposure. Both men and women should choose a hat with a minimum two-to-three-inch-wide brim. Coolibar (Coolibar.com) offers stylish hats with a UPF of 50+ for men and women.
Mistake #3: You skip your “lips and tips.” Lips are prone to developing precancerous lesions called actinic cheilitis—scaly patches that, when untreated, can turn into squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer.
What to try: Neutrogena Revitalizing Lip Balm, SPF 20 (Neutrogena.com) is a tinted lip balm with moisturizer. Vanicream Lip Protectant, SPF 30 (Vanicream.com) is gluten-free and free of dyes, parabens and other preservatives.
Don’t forget your “tips”: Tips of the ears, the scalp and tops of hands also are vulnerable to developing skin cancers due to their cumulative sun exposure.
What to try: A stick that allows precise application, such as Kiss My Face Sport Hot Spots Sunscreen, SPF 30 (KissMyFace.com).
Mistake #4: You ignore the label. Sunscreen ingredients do matter. The FDA has proposed that zinc oxide and titanium dioxide be considered GRASE (generally recognized as safe and -effective). On the other hand, para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and trolamine salicylate are not GRASE for use in sunscreens due to possible safety concerns. (Trolamine salicylate, for instance, can interfere with healthy blood clotting.)
An additional 12 ingredients, such as the chemical sunscreen ingredients oxybenzone, avobenzone and octinoxate, fall somewhere in between—some experts are concerned about the potential for endocrine disruption, for instance—and more research is needed to determine safety.
New finding: After four thorough applications, the popular chemical sunscreen ingredients avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule were detected in volunteers’ blood in concentrations that exceeded the FDA’s testing threshold, according to a study published in JAMA. For oxybenzone, the threshold level was detected just two hours after the first application and it accumulated at higher rates than the other ingredients. More safety testing will be done.
What to try:Badger’s Clear Zinc Sunscreen, SPF 30 (Badgerbalm.com) blends with your skin tone and has 98% certified organic ingredients. Or try Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Zinc Oxide Sunscreen, SPF 50 (Aveeno.com).
Also, pay close attention to terms on the label. Be sure to choose…
• “Broad spectrum.” This means that it protects against UVA rays (which contribute to premature skin aging) and UVB rays (sunburn). Both can lead to skin cancer.
• “Water-resistant” or “very water-resistant.” This means that it protects wet or sweaty skin for 40 or 80 minutes, respectively.
Also: Throw out sunscreen that is expired…or showing signs of expiration, such as changes in consistency, smell or color. If a product doesn’t show an expiration date, use a permanent marker to write the date of purchase on the bottle and use that as a guide.
Mistake #5: You use a combination sunscreen–insect repellent. Insect repellent ingredients (DEET, in particular) can slash SPF by more than 30%.
What to do: Use a separate sunscreen and insect repellent, and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for each. Apply insect repellent first and wait at least a minute before applying sunscreen. One ounce (two tablespoons) of sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours, but insect repellent does not, so be sure you don’t apply too much.