Sun Protection Is About More Than Just Using Sunblock
Updated: Feb 20
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in America. The number of cases of skin cancer is higher than that of breast cancer, colon cancer, and lung cancer combined. This is why dermatologists are so adamant about using the right type of sun protection.
What is sun protection?
To start with, sun protection is about more than just using sunblock. And using sunblock means more than just looking at the SPF factor.
What do I mean by sun protection? Sun protection means limiting the amount of ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reaches your skin. While there are several risk factors for skin cancer, UV radiation is a big one, and it's one that you can control by making the right choices. 1. The sun's rays are strongest between the hours of 10 AM and 4 PM. Be especially careful during that time.
2. Accessories are important elements of sun protection. Large sunglasses protect the delicate skin around your eyes. A wide-brimmed hat protects your ears. I see a lot of skin cancers, especially in older men, on the tops of the ears and on the scalp. (That's why baseball caps aren't enough)
3. Clothing is important too. A thin white cotton T-shirt still allows UV radiation to penetrate through to the skin. This is why I recommend clothing with a thicker weave, one that you can't see through. If you can see through it, then light is getting through, which means UV radiation is too. There are several companies that make sun protective clothing, ideal for swimming.
4. UV radiation can and does penetrate through window glass, such as car windows. This is why I see patients who over time have developed more pre-cancers and skin cancers on the left side of their face.
5. I still see people who sunburn after their ski vacation. Sunlight is reflected by water, concrete, and snow, which means that you have to be extra careful when you're around those surfaces. Some of my friends and patients forget that even a bracingly cold day on the slopes comes with significant UV radiation reflected off the snow.
6. Even though an overcast day doesn't look worrisome, UV radiation can still penetrate the cloud cover and cause damage.
For the best sun protection, stay vigilant. Sunblock provides another layer of protection, and it's important too. For sunblock recommendations, see this post: Choosing the Right Sunblock Means More Than Just Looking At The SPF Factor
Dr. Rajani Katta is the author of Glow: The Dermatologist's Guide to a Whole Foods Younger Skin Diet. To receive future updates on preventive dermatology and the role of diet, sign up here.