According to the American Cancer Society, one out of every five Americans will develop skin cancer. Chances are, you have been warned about skin cancer all your life starting from that first day at the pool when your mom chased you around with a bottle of sunscreen. But did you know there are several different kinds of skin cancer?
The two most common are basal cell skin cancer and squamous cell skin cancer, and they are both due to overexposure to the sun. The sun’s harmful UV rays kill the DNA in your skin cells and can affect the gene that controls skin cell growth. Which brings us back to the importance of using sunscreen. But also understanding what sunscreen is doing to protect your skin will help prevent future indiscretions.
The first thing you should know about sunscreen is that most sunscreen products only protect against one type of UV ray. Yes, there are several different kinds of UV rays, and yes, this does make things a bit more complicated. UV rays can be divided into two main categories UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can damage skin cells and are more long-term, causing wrinkles. UVB rays are considered short term and cause sunburns. The strength of UVA and UVB rays are something to be aware of. They can increase and decrease throughout the day and year. For example, the sun is the strongest and can cause the most damage between the hours of 10am and 4 pm in the spring and summer seasons.
Another factor that can contribute to UV ray strength is when it is associated with objects that reflect light. Keep this in mind when swimming at the beach or pool because your UV ray exposure will increase when you are in water.
As mentioned earlier most sunscreens will only protect you against UVB rays, the rays that cause sunburns. However, broad spectrum, or full spectrum sunscreens are formulated to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. The difference in broad spectrum sunscreen is that it contains zinc oxide and other special ingredients.
You’re likely familiar with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) number on your sunscreen, but what exactly does that mean? The first thing you should know is that the SPF number is the protection against UVB rays. This number is the multiplying factor in minutes that you are able to stay in the sun with protection. For example if you normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun and you properly apply SPF 15, the theory is you can last 15 times longer in the sun, so 150 minutes or around 2.5 hours. The higher the SPF number the more protection you will have from UVB rays. Although, the higher the SPF number the smaller the difference in protection becomes. For example, SPF 15 is 93% protection, SPF 30 is 97% protection, SPF 50 is 98% protection, and SPF 100 is 99% protection. Therefore, you can conclude that a higher number is better, but not as much of a difference than you probably thought.
Some good habits to protect yourself from the UV rays is to reapply after sweating or going in the water, because no sunscreen is waterproof -only water resistant. Wearing a shirt or hat is also highly recommended if you are particularly sensitive to the sun.
At Viva Medicare, we highly recommend our members to use sunscreen during these hot Alabama months. But if by chance you do see some discoloration or legion on your skin please see a doctor. Depending on your Medicare Advantage plan, you do not need a referral to see a specialist such as a dermatologist.