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Sunscreen Smarts: 6 Things Everyone Should Know

Here’s a shocking stat: Up to 1 in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in their lifetime. The good news is that sunscreen can go a long way toward reducing your risk.

But the contents inside that bottle or tube isn’t magic. “Sunscreen only works if you’re applying it correctly,” explained Jeffrey Farma, MD, FACS, Surgical Director of the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Here are six important facts that can help you do just that.

1. Everyone needs to wear sunscreen, even on cloudy days.

Skin cancer can affect anyone. No matter your race, age, or gender, you should apply sunscreen whenever you’ll be outside. That goes for days that are overcast. Most of the sun’s UV rays can still penetrate through clouds.

2. The best sunscreen is the one you’ll use.

Creams, gels, sticks and sprays all work, so pick what you like. You’ll be more likely to use a sunscreen that feels good to you and that you think is easy to apply. Many people find sprays more convenient—especially for kids. Just make sure to apply enough so that all areas of exposed skin are fully covered. And remember to reapply throughout the day.

3. You need a sunscreen with an SPF of 30. SPFs higher than 30 don't offer much more protection.

An SPF of 30 is enough to protect against 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays. “It’s fine to pick a higher SPF if you want. Just know that the higher number doesn’t offer much extra protection,” Farma said. “Greater SPFs don’t last longer—and no SPF will protect against 100 percent of UV rays.”

In addition to the right SPF, there are two other must-haves for your sunscreen:

  • It should be labeled as broad-spectrum. (That means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays).
  • It should also be water-resistant.

4. You should apply before heading outside—and reapply often.

Give your sunscreen time to sink in by applying 15 minutes before you go outside. And reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. Set a reminder alarm on your phone if you think you might forget.

5. You probably aren’t using enough.

Most of us only apply 25 to 50 percent as much sunscreen as we actually need, research suggests. But it takes a full ounce of sunscreen to evenly cover your body. That’s about the amount it would take to fill a shot glass. So apply generously. You’re better off using too much sunscreen than too little.

6. Even when used correctly, sunscreen isn’t foolproof.

Which is why it’s smart to take extra steps to protect your skin when you’re outside, Farma said. Try to:

  • Stay out of direct sunlight between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing—like a wide-brimmed hat or a long-sleeved shirt—when possible. Many clothes now have SPF protection.
  • Protect your lips. Use a lip balm that contains sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more.
  • Wear SPF sunglasses.

Skin cancer treatment at Fox Chase

Our skin cancer specialists and support staff are leaders in diagnosing and treating all types of skin cancers, including melanoma. Read more here.