Monday Medical: Sunscreen — decoding the bottle | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Sunscreen — decoding the bottle

Susan Cunningham/For Steamboat Today

Monday Medical

Editor's note: This is the third article in a five-part series on skin cancer.

If you've skipped sunscreen when the sky is cloudy or when you think you'll just be inside, you may want to reconsider.

About 80 percent of your exposure to ultraviolet, or UV, radiation is incidental — when you're walking into the grocery store, driving to work or sitting by a window.

UV radiation causes skin cancers, which will impact one in five Americans. Dr. Maryann Wall, board certified in otolaryngology, head and neck surgery and facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, encourages people to wear sunscreen daily — no matter the weather.

"Ultraviolet radiation is cumulative," Wall said. "It's not that one trip you took to Florida and wore a bikini and were laying on the beach for four hours and got a wicked sunburn. Every day, whether you're inside or outside, regardless of whether it's sunny, rainy, dumping snow or cloudy, you are getting bombarded."

Sunscreen is a first line of defense against UV radiation. But choosing the right sunscreen can be a challenge.

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"You need to know how to decode a bottle," Wall said

Following are Wall's tips for doing just that.

• Broad spectrum — Choose a sunscreen that offers "broad spectrum" protection, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

• SPF 30 to 50 — The sun protection factor, or SPF, describes how much protection a sunscreen offers against UVB rays, which cause skin cancers and burns. Currently, there's no equivalent measure for UVA rays, which cause skin cancers and premature aging. Choose an SPF between 30 (which blocks 97 percent of UVB rays) and 50 (which blocks 98 percent); there's no need to go above SPF 50.

• Understand ingredients — Sunscreens can use either physical blocks, which reflect UV radiation, or chemical blocks, which absorb it. There are two physical blocks — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide — and both protect against both types of rays.

There are various types of chemical blocks. Two examples that absorb UVA rays are stabilized avobenzone and mexoryl. Avoid sunscreens with oxybenzone if you're swimming in oceans, as that chemical can harm coral reefs.

• Water-resistant. If you're going to be sweating or in water, choose a water-resistant sunscreen.

• Apply liberally — Use one ounce (or a shot glass full) to apply over your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. If you wear sun-protective clothing, you can apply sunscreen only to your exposed skin. "You really do have to put on more than you think," Wall said.

• Reapply — Reapply every two hours and after swimming and sweating.

• Avoid sprays — Sprays can be inhaled, are flammable and have incomplete dispersion, which means less protection.

• Choose a sunscreen you'll use — Sunscreen should feel good on your skin and work with your skin type. If you have acne or eczema, the sunscreen shouldn't make it worse. "You need to find one you will wear daily and that you will reapply," Wall said. "It doesn't have to be expensive, and it doesn't have to have pretty packaging."

• Use it — People give various reasons for not using sunscreen — they need to get their vitamin D, for instance. However, it's much better to use vitamin D enriched foods or supplements, and keep your skin safe.

It's not enough to sit under an umbrella, as sand and concrete will reflect sun back to your skin.

One published study showed there's a dramatic gender divide in sunscreen use: 43 percent of women regularly protect their faces, compared to 18 percent of men.

"We know that 86 percent of melanomas and non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with ultraviolet radiation exposure," Wall said. "So, memo to men: Step up sunscreen use."

Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at cunninghamsbc@gmail.com.

Sun Safety Quiz

How sun safe are you? Take a short quiz, available at info.yvmc.org/sunquiz, and receive a 15 percent off coupon for UPF gear at Twisted Trails Running Company in Steamboat Springs.

If you go

What: Beyond Sunscreen: An Athlete’s Guide to Skin Protection, presented by Maryann Wall, MD

When: 6 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 17

Where: Yampa Valley Medical Center Conference Rooms

RSVP: yvmc.org

Sun Safety Quiz

How sun safe are you? Take a short quiz, available at info.yvmc.org/sunquiz, and receive a 15 percent off coupon for UPF gear at Twisted Trails Running Company in Steamboat Springs.