Striving to get a tan during the summer months may not be worth the effort when it could possibly lead to skin cancer.
Skin cancer is prevalent in men and women of all ages, but new sunscreen regulations are designed to help people better protect themselves from the sun’s harmful radiation.
In 2012, the Food and Drug Administration created labeling guidelines that require sunscreen companies to undergo tests when labeling their products as “broad spectrum,” meaning they protect people against both UVA and UVB rays.
Dr. Brad Huber, a dermatologist at Utah Central Clinic, explained UVA rays as constant sun rays that continue throughout the day, while UVB rays are stronger rays that are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
Although skin cancer is not the only risk posed by sun radiation, Huber said it is the biggest. To protect themselves from the sun, he suggested people wear sunscreen, but also sun-protective clothing, such as hats and sunglasses, and avoid the sun during certain parts of the day. Huber also said most sunscreens can help decrease the risk of skin cancer.
Dr. Kim Pettit, a dermatologist with the University of Utah, said in the past, most sunscreens would only protect consumers from UVB rays, because people believed they were the only cancer-causing rays.
She said the term “sun protection factor,” or SPF, only applies to protection from UVB radiation and has nothing to do with equally harmful UVA radiation.
“Over the years, we’ve come to understand that UVA radiation contributes to and may even initiate the development of skin cancers,” Pettit said. “With this knowledge, UVA protection has been added to many sunscreens.”
Pettit recommended when choosing a sunscreen to select one labeled “broad spectrum” with an SPF of at least 30.
“I would also emphasize the need to apply it liberally (two tablespoons to cover the entire body) and to reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating,” Pettit said.
Lately people have called for more data to determine the safety of spray sunscreen. Many argue that using sprays puts people at risk of inhaling many of the chemicals in the spray.
Megan Cousin, a recent graduate from Idaho Falls, Idaho, said she pays more attention to sun exposure and applies sunscreen when spending extended periods of time in the sun. She said she applies sunscreen anytime she goes to the park or goes camping, because she recently discovered a suspicious mole of her own. Cousin’s grandfather and great-grandmother died from skin cancer, so she said she understands the gravity of the disease.
“I think it’s important that people realize how prevalent skin cancer is and how damaging it is,” Cousin said. “We think it is never going to happen to us, but it can.”
Cousin said she would encourage people to not put off checking in with doctors if they notice suspicious blemishes.
“If you have just an inkling of fear, go check it out,” she said. “Even if you haven’t been seriously burned in years, it might not be affecting you until now.”