Summertime means being outside, whether it's at the beach, a street festival or just in the backyard.
As good as it might feel to soak up the sun, doctors warn that people need to take more seriously their use of sunscreen to avoid premature aging or worse — skin cancer.
It's getting a little easier to do that.
In 2012, new rules from the Food and Drug Administration took effect governing label information regarding sunscreen. Included in the new rules are defining the term "broad spectrum," which means a sunscreen offers protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) in proportional amounts. Before, sunscreens did not address UVA radiation, which causes skin cancer and early aging but not necessarily the telltale signs of sunburn.
Additionally, claims such as "waterproof," "sweatproof" or "sunblock" are no longer allowed.
Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group, said despite greater awareness of the damage sun can do and products with higher sun protection factors (SPF), melanoma rates are still increasing. Melanoma is one of the most deadly forms of skin cancer.
"No one really knows why," she said. "We think mismarketing of sunscreen really contributes to that problem by giving consumers the idea that they can rely on sunscreen and be out all day safely in the sun. People misuse sunscreen and get more sunburns, not fewer."
How to use. Dermatologists said there's a lot of sunscreen misuse, and the biggest problem is most people don't use enough.
"Nobody uses enough, ever, ever, ever. You're supposed to use one ounce, which is as much as a shot glass to cover all of your exposed body areas," said Dr. Jason Reichenberg, vice chair at the University of Texas Southwestern at Austin department of dermatology.
Apply it at least 15 minutes before going out, and that amount needs to be reapplied every two hours — more often if the person is sweating a lot or swimming, he said.
Wear sunscreen on a cloudy day too. "You can still get a bad sunburn on a cloudy day as the ultraviolet rays still pass through," said Dr. Elizabeth Martin, a dermatologist with Pure Dermatology & Aesthetics, in Hoover, Ala.
Being "sun smart" is just as important as sunscreen use, Martin and Reichenberg said. That includes trying to avoid the sun between the hottest time of the day, which is usually between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and preferably long pants and long-sleeved shirts, they said.
And forgoing sunscreen to get vitamin D exposure from the sun is a bad idea, the dermatologists stressed. Instead, take a supplement or eat foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, or drink fortified orange juice.
And never, ever go to a tanning booth. "It's a myth to get a 'base tan,'" Martin said. "All you do is damage the skin."
How to buy. For over-the-counter sunscreens, the dermatologists recommend buying a broad spectrum with an SPF of at least 30. Additionally, the dermatologists and Lunder say the mineral-based sunscreens, those with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, offer the best coverage.
For chemical-based sunscreens, a key ingredient is avobenzone, which is one of the best UV filters. However, Lunder said it breaks down quickly, which is why sunscreen needs to be reapplied.
Some over-the-counter brands the dermatologists recommend are Aveeno, CeraVe, Cetaphil and Neutrogena. The Environmental Working Group's website has a searchable database based on different types of sunscreens.
Although spray sunscreens are popular with parents, the experts frown on these because it's difficult to tell if the sunscreen was properly applied, not to mention the chance of inhaling the spray.
Sunscreens can be used the next year, but, "if you have a bottle left from last year, you didn't use enough," Martin said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun