The Real Scoop On Sunscreen: Make Sure You’re Using It Properly

Robert S. Donovan/Flickr

If you’re gearing up for summer, you’re probably investing in a lot of sunscreen. But you may also be confused about how to use sunscreen, when it wears off, and how much it actually does for you.

Part of that uncertainty stems from a recent statement from the Institute of Cancer Research that reveals that sunscreen alone is not enough to prevent skin cancer. There are many types of skin cancers, but standard sunscreen is not enough to deal with them. Sunscreen alone is especially not enough to halt or eliminate the threat of malignant melanomas, which can be the root of many skin cancers.

So, how can you prevent skin cancer? Science is still working on that. But, you can protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun by following these steps:

  • Wear additional protection. Use hats, scarves, and long sleeves to diminish the impact of UV rays on your skin. (Did you know that “rash guard” style long-sleeved swimsuits are now in fashion? Who’d have thought?)
  • Get in the shade! Pay attention to the UV index. When the sun is high, stay out or seek other ways of protecting yourself from the sun. There’s a reason that parasols are still popular in other countries. They were once designed to keep noblewomen from looking sunburnt, and they did an excellent job at it.
  • Figure out the type of sunscreen that works for you. Maybe you’re a fan of sprays. Maybe you prefer a thick, heavy cream. Maybe you have a brand that you’ve stuck with forever. The best sunscreen is the one you actually use. Find a brand and stick to it – assuming they never change the formula or availability of the product.
  • Apply plenty and reapply often. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends using 1 oz of sunscreen – about a shot glass full – for the average sized body, but most people use only a quarter to half of that amount, leaving themselves – or their children – underprotected. You’ll also need to reapply sunscreen every two hours at least… yes, even if your sunscreen is “water resistant”.

Also, keep in mind that melanoma in the skin is genuinely dangerous. It can spread to other areas of the body very quickly, because skin is the body’s largest organ. Every organ that touches the skin is susceptible, including joints and muscle groups. So, if you or your doctor find a suspicious spot on your body that wasn’t there before, take the issue seriously. It might be nothing, and probably is. But finding the truth will give you a lot of peace of mind. Skin is easy enough to stress out about – figuring out the way to take care of it over the long term should be the easy part!