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Fun in the Sun? Play It Safe
By Debra Ball-Brummett, MD

Summer is here and thoughts turn to outdoor activities:  picnics, swimming, baseball and other American pastimes.  However, summer is also a time of increased risk for dangerous UVA/UVB exposure that can lead to skin cancers. 
What are UVA and UVB rays, what do they do, and why is it so important to protect against them?   Both are ultraviolet radiation rays produced by sunlight, and both cause DNA damage to skin that increases skin cancer risk.  Sunburn is mainly caused by UVB.  UVA predominately causes skin aging, tanning, and increased cancer risk. 

Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are most often caused by long-term additive effects of sun exposure while melanoma is more associated with quick intense blistering sunburns.  One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence increases one’s risk of deadly melanoma double fold.  

Sunscreen Made Simple

The FDA has released new rules for sunscreens that go into effect next year to help consumers with the confusion on sunscreens.  No longer can the word “sun block” be used because no product completely blocks the sun’s rays.  SPF stands for sun protection factor and indicates how long it takes your skin to burn.  An easier way to look at it is that SPF 15 blocks 93% of incoming UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% and SPF 50 blocks 99%.  SPF over 50 will no longer be allowed, because ratings higher than 50 SPF don’t result in any additional protection. 

Broad spectrum will only be allowed if it protects against UVB and UVA rays with an SPF over 14.  If below SPF 14,  the label must include an alert about skin cancer and skin aging.

Waterproof or sweat proof labels will no longer be allowed because it overstates the effectiveness of the products.  They can only be identified as water resistant.  Products also cannot claim immediate protection upon application or protection for longer than 2 hours without reapplication.

A Healthy Glow?

Tanning beds emit mainly UVA rays and the use of a tanning bed increases one’s risk of melanoma by 75%.  Remember that tanning itself is caused by damaging UVA light and causes cellular damage that over time increases risk of skin cancer. The cosmetic effect of tanning on skin essentially gives the same results as when one tans leather.  It also increases  wrinkles and ages the skin.  If you still want that tan look, choose the natural vegetable-dye spray tans.

Have Fun in the Sun

So how do you play safe in the sun?  Apply one ounce (a shot glass full)  of broad spectrum sunscreen, SPF 15 or greater, 30 minutes before sun exposure.  Do not wait until you are in the sun to apply!  Reapply every 2 hours, or more often if in the water or sweating.

Wear a floppy hat, and if it has neck protection flaps, that’s even better.  Wear long sleeves and long pants, and consider clothes that have added SPF in them.  A parasol, beach umbrella or other sun blocking device can be helpful.

Try to avoid going out between 10:00 am and 3:00 p.m. when the sun is most intense. Replace your sunscreen after a year.   Most important, have a fun, safe summer!

Debra Ball-Brummett, MD, is a board-certified family medicine physician who practices at the Alsbury Family Medicine Clinic in Burleson. The Alsbury Family Medicine Clinic may be reached at 817-447-8080 and is located at 780 NE Alsbury Blvd., Suite B.