Relying solely on a dollop of sunscreen to protect your skin from the ravages of the sun is a little like counting on a lap seat belt to completely protect you in a car crash. While both are necessary and can help minimize damage, they're only a part of a smart protection plan.
"Most people don't apply sunscreen often enough or in a large enough quantity to really give protection," says Dr. Kimberly Butterwick, a San Diego dermatologist. "If people would double-up and triple-up on their sun protection - wear clothing, hats and sunglasses, in addition to sunscreen - they could manage to get the kind of sun protection they really need."If the fear of wrinkles and premature aging hasn't gotten you into a healthy sun-protection habit, maybe current skin cancer statistics will. About 62,000 cases of melanoma will be diagnosed this year, and more than 7,900 people will die of this cancer, which has been increasing in incidence by about 3 percent a year since 1980, according to the American Melanoma Foundation.
As you head outside this summer, remember to take along plenty of good sun sense and some practical skin-protection tools.
Made in the shade: Try to stay out of the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. (stretching it to 4 p.m. is even better), when ultraviolet exposure is strongest. Limiting outdoor activities isn't always possible or desirable on holidays, but at least try to provide a shady retreat. A rain or beach umbrella or sun tent can offer some UV relief. But remember that rays reach you even on cloudy and hazy days, and reflect off surfaces like water, concrete, sand and snow. So even if you stay in the shade, it's a good idea to wear sunscreen.
Cover up: Wearing a big white T-shirt over your wet swimsuit can actually do more harm than good.
"A light T-shirt can give you a false sense of security about sun protection," Butterwick says. "A white T-shirt only has an SPF of about 5, and even less when it's wet."
Dermatologists recommend special sun-protective clothing, or at least a heavier, tightly woven fabric to cover the skin. Sun-protective clothing offering the equivalent of an SPF 20 or 30 is available from several manufacturers, including Solumbra ( www.sunprecautions.com); Coolibar ( www.coolibar.com); Sun Solutions ( www.sunsolutionsclothing.com); and Solartex ( www.solartex.com).
The clothing for both adults and children is usually well-ventilated, with long-sleeved shirts and long pants in casual styles made of special fabrics that are lightweight, soft and quick-drying. If you don't want to spend the money on pricey sun-protective clothing (an adult Solumbra shirt can cost $90; a child's Solumbra polo shirt, $40), regular clothing will do if the fabric's weave is tight enough. The tighter the weave, the better it will block UV rays. Color also plays a role. Darker shades absorb UV light, so less radiation makes it through the fabric to the skin. Denim is a great sun blocker, but generally too hot for a day in the sun.
Another option that's cheaper than buying special sun-protective clothing and cooler than wearing heavy street clothes is Rit SunGuard Laundry Treatment, which increases fabric UV protection without changing the smell or texture. Just toss the packet into the washer, and clothing comes out with the ability to block 96 percent of ultraviolet rays and lasts for up to 20 washings. A pack of six 1-ounce boxes costs about $20 at supermarkets and drugstores.
Heads up: "Most people put on a baseball cap and think they're protected. But that leaves their neck and ears exposed, and those areas are so common for cancer," Butterwick says.
Dermatologists recommend big, broad-brimmed hats with brims measuring 4 inches to 5 inches wide to protect the back of the neck and ears as well as the face. For extended periods in the sun, the legionnaire-style cap with the neck drape is a wise idea to fully protect neck and ears.
Make sure the hat is constructed of a tightly woven fabric, such as canvas or a durable polyester, to protect your skin from UV rays. When possible, avoid loosely woven straw hats that let sunlight through. But don't count on hats to do the job alone, especially if you're near the water, sand or snow.
"If you're by the water, no matter how big your hat is, you will need a good sunscreen on your face," says Dr. Ruth Gilboa, a San Diego dermatologist. "The sun reflects off the water and bounces back on your face, and a hat doesn't really protect you at all then."
Protect your peepers: Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Look for the American National Standards Institute label, which assures that 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation is blocked. The majority of sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard.
Although gray is the best lens color for protection, the color of the lenses doesn't matter as much as the style. Seek glasses with a large frame and lenses that cover the entire eye. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side. Although UV-absorbing contact lenses filter out most harmful rays, they should not be used as a substitute for sunglasses. You still need to cover the entire eye area, including the eyelid.
Pucker protection: Make sure you coat your lips with a lip balm that's at least SPF 15. Ordinary petroleum jelly moisturizes, and lipstick makes your pout pretty, but neither protects your mouth from the sun. Remember to reapply the balm often.
You still need sunscreen: In addition to all the sun-protection tools mentioned above, it's still imperative to wear sunscreen every day.
Use a sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. An SPF 30 is better. Make sure you use a broad-spectrum formula that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Look for zinc oxide and titanium dioxide on the ingredient list, both effective sunblocks. Use one ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a standard shot glass, to cover exposed skin, and apply it about 20 minutes before exposure. Remember to shake it well before applying.
No matter what the SPF, reapply sunscreen every two to three hours.
Replace sunscreen each summer, since chemical ingredients can break down. And despite what the ads claim, no sunscreen product is truly waterproof, sweat-proof or capable of lasting all day.
SPF - Sun protection factor
UPF - Ultraviolet protection factor
UV - Ultraviolet
UVA - Ultraviolet radiation causing skin damage
UVB - Ultraviolet radiation causing sunburn
Wide brims protect the face, ears and back of the neck. SUNGLASSES
Seek sunglasses with a large frames, such as wrap-around glasses, to block UV rays from entering from the sides.
Lips should be coated with balm of at least SPF 15 and reapplied often.
SUN PROTECTIVE SHIRT
Tightly woven fabric can block UV rays, as can special sun-protective apparel.
Use an SPF of at least 15; 30 is better. Apply 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover exposed skin 20 minutes before exposure. Reapply every two to three hours.
SUN PROTECTIVE PANTS
Darker shades of fabric absorb UV light, allowing less radiation to the skin.
While umbrellas offer some shade and UV relief, they won't protect from rays reflecting off surfaces such as water, concrete and sand.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
American Academy of Dermatology, (888) 462-DERM, www.aad.org
American Melanoma Foundation, (619) 448-0991, www.melanomafoundation.org
American Cancer Society, (800) 227-2345, www.cancer.org
Skin Cancer Foundation, (800) SKIN-490, www.skincancer.org