The truth about sunscreen: Use It, Don’t Abuse It!

Here’s an important fact, the role of sunscreen in sun protection is limited! Yes, you heard correctly. There is no good scientific literature proving that regular sunscreen application  prevents basal cell carcinoma or melanoma. The same can be said for its role in preventing skin aging a.k.a. photo-aging. Mind boggling, right?!

So what is sunscreen good for? Preventing sunburn. For this purpose, the prevention of sunburn,  sunscreen must be applied generously and frequently. In this regard, the recommendation of dermatologists and the MInistry of Health is to apply sunscreen every two hours when being exposed to the sun. Water activities reduce the level of sunscreen protection, therefore, while swimming in an outdoor pool, or at the beach, sunscreen should be applied more frequently. It is also recommended that the initial application of sunscreen be applied 15 minutes prior to sun exposure to allow the sunscreen to be properly absorbed into the skin.   

So how do you protect your skin from the dangers of skin cancer and restrict photo-aging?

First, it is important to limit exposure to the sun’s harmful rays by choosing the ideal hours to be out. Here’s a fact, the risk of exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays at 12 noon is four times greater (!) than exposure at say; 8am or 4 pm. In other words, it is best to hang out at the beach or pool during the early morning or late afternoon, avoiding the midday (10am-4pm) sun.

Secondly, when you are out and about during the midday sun (siestas seem to be a thing of the past…) optimal sun protection is achieved with clothing and broad brim hats. General rule of thumb, if you can’t see through the fabric or hat  neither can the sun! Sunscreen should still be applied to the areas of skin not protected by clothing to avoid sunburn. But don’t be fooled, preventing sunburn does not equal preventing sun damage. 

The lack of sunburn caused by sunscreen can lull us into a false sense of security. To use sunscreen alone on areas that should be protected by clothing is sunscreen “abuse”!

Last fact, most of the damage sustained by sun exposure occurs before the age of 18 and only manifests itself in our later years. Therefore, it is highly recommended to see a dermatologist for routine skin examinations. One should also pay attention to one’s moles and beauty spots and report any changes to one’s dermatologist. Early diagnosis of melanoma is life saving, and early diagnosis of skin cancers like BCC and SCC can significantly improve their treatment. 

Source: International Cancer Association