How to Save Yourself from Skin Cancer

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8 Burning Questions

1. Am I using enough sunscreen?
Typically, people don't use the sunscreen amount they need to get the SPF protection promised on the label, according to a study in the Archives of Dermatology. One ounce -- enough to fill a shot glass -- is the minimum amount you supposedly need to cover your face and body at the beach. "But unless you're a very petite woman, you should use two ounces," says Dr. Read. Be sure to reapply at least every two hours and right after you swim or perspire heavily.

2. Should I apply sunscreen even if I'm just running errands?
Yes. Little bursts of sun can add up to big-time damage. "Think of sun exposure as cumulative," says Amanda Jacobs, MD, a dermatologist at the Mayo Clinic.

3. Do I need sunscreen on a cloudy day?
Yes. Up to 80 percent of the sun's UVA and UVB rays can pass through clouds.

4. Does an SPF 30 sunscreen protect much better than a 15?
It doesn't provide twice the screening power. "You'll get 3 to 4 percent more protection with SPF 30 compared to SPF 15," says Dr. Leffell. Above 30, higher numbers will give you even less additional benefit. However, if you skimped on how much you applied, a higher SPF may add a little extra insurance.

5. Which is better -- a spray or a cream?
Used correctly, they're about equal. "It's best to spray on one coat and then respray," says Allan C. Halpern, MD, chief of dermatology at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. It's easier to cover hard-to-reach places with a spray, and sprays have a lighter feel. Creams are often greasier, so it's easier to tell if you've skipped a spot.

6. My moisturizer has SPF 15. Do I need to wear sunscreen, too?
Experts don't agree. "If you're just going back and forth to your car, your moisturizer should be sufficient," says Dr. Leffell. But Dr. Jacobs thinks using sunscreen under moisturizer is a better daily habit. "You'd have to really slather on your moisturizer to get adequate SPF protection," she says. And if you're at the beach or pool, you definitely need to use sunscreen.

7. Do some ingredients work better?
Two of the most effective ingredients are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, compounds that physically block UVA and UVB radiation from penetrating your skin. They sometimes last longer than two hours -- what you get from a typical sunscreen -- but older formulas leave a chalky residue on the skin (if you were a lifeguard growing up, you may remember covering your nose with white zinc oxide cream). Most sunscreens rely on lighter-weight chemicals that act by absorbing and dissipating harmful radiation.

Is it considered safe to use sunscreen around my eyes?
Yes, says Dr. Halpern, but if it gets into your eyes it will burn. Products for babies or kids may sting less; washing your fingers after applying sunscreen will help if you accidentally rub your eyes.

Continued on page 3:  Detecting Skin Cancer

 

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