Medical Professional Warns Of Common Sunscreen Mistakes

LIVINGSTON – As the weather heats up and people enjoy a fun summer stocked with plenty of outdoor activities, it is important to remember that regular use of sunscreen is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer.

This is the first summer in which the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new rules governing the way sunscreen can be labeled are in effect. Sunscreens can no longer be called “sunblocks” (as it overstates their effectiveness) and can not claim to provide instant sun protection or to last more than two hours without reapplication. The term “water resistant” may be used but “waterproof” or “sweat proof” are no longer acceptable.

In addition, sunscreens can be labeled “broad spectrum” only if they protect equally against two types of Ultraviolet (UV) rays — UVB rays, the main culprit of skin cancer, and UVA rays, which cause aging. Products that are not broad spectrum or are SPF 15 and lower must warn that they only protect against sunburn not skin aging or skin cancer.

Stefanie Kelly, RN, OCN, Assistant Director of Clinical Services for the Cancer Center at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, shares some common mistakes people make when it comes to wearing sunscreen and tips on how to avoid them.

MISTAKE: Applying sunscreen AFTER going outdoors.
Sunscreen needs to be applied 15 to 30 minutes BEFORE going outside to give it time to be absorbed into the skin. Follow manufacturer’s instructions for absorption time.

MISTAKE: Not applying enough sunscreen.
Experts recommend that an adult should use about 1 ounce of sunscreen for adequate coverage. Remember that all body parts that will be exposed to the sun need to be protected. Kelly cautions that most people forget to apply sunscreen to their face, ears, neck and feet.

MISTAKE: Not reapplying after swimming or sweating.
Sunscreen that is not labeled “water resistant” does come off while you’re in the water or sweating. Even water resistant sunscreen provides a limited window of protection. To learn how often to reapply, check the label which must note a limit of 40 or 80 minutes before the sunscreen becomes ineffective.

MISTAKE: Not reapplying.
Many people have the misconception that one application of sunscreen will provide all-day protection. Not true. Kelly explains that sunscreen generally needs to be reapplied at least every two hours and more frequently when swimming or sweating. She says to check the label for specific instructions.

MISTAKE: Using sunscreen only when it is sunny.
Sunscreen needs to be used on both sunny and cloudy days. Harmful UV rays can still affect people when it’s cloudy. “It’s important to keep in mind that all people are at risk of skin damage caused by the sun’s harmful UV rays, so it is crucial to wear sunscreen that blocks UVA and UVB rays regardless of your skin tone or ethnicity,” Kelly says.

MISTAKE: Using a sunscreen that only blocks UVB rays.
To ensure protection, use a sunscreen that contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide, which block UVB and UVA rays.

MISTAKE: Using old sunscreen.
Make sure your sunscreen is not expired and don’t use an old or outdated one. Kelly suggests that if it does not have an expiration date, write the date on the bottle and toss it after one year.

MISTAKE: Wearing sunscreen, but not protective clothing.
Wearing protective clothing and accessories like hats, shirts, sunglasses in addition to sunscreen make for doubly safe sun. “Many companies now sell clothing for adults and children that offer SPF 50+ protection,” Kelly explains.

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