Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Protecting yourself from the sun

With the virtually limitless array of sunscreens available today, you'd think that people are better protected from sunburn and skin cancer than ever before. Ironically, though, the American Cancer Society reported last year that more and more people under 40 are getting nonmelanoma skin cancer, the most common type of skin cancer.

Sunscreen products can provide a false sense of security and actually lead to overexposure to the sun's harsh rays, even if sunscreens are used properly (which they often aren't). Here are some tips to get the best protection from the sun.

Play the numbers game. Use sunscreen (and lip balm) rated SPF 15 or higher.

Better sooner than later. Lots of folks don't start applying the sunscreen until they're already outside at the beach or the tennis court. But since it takes 15 - 20 minutes for the chemicals in sunscreen to react with your skin, this means the skin is unprotected during that time. Remember to apply sunscreen before you go outside.

Don't use it lightly. A thin film of sunscreen won't be enough to protect you. Experts recommend using a shot-glass full (1 1/2 ounces ) for the entire body.

Reapply often. Despite manufacturer's claims of being waterproof, sweat-resistant, or offering all-day protection, you definitely need to reapply sunscreen every two hours that you're out in the sun, or after you've been swimming or sweating. And don't forget that the sun's dangerous rays are still reaching you even on overcast days.

Sunscreen is only part of a sound sun-protection strategy. Wearing a long-sleeve shirt and long pants also help, as does wearing a hat with a brim. The American Cancer Society is using an easy-to-remember slogan to promote sun safety--slip, slop, slap (which the Australian government has also been using). It's simple: slip on a shirt, slop on the sunscreen, and slap on a hat.

No matter what you call it or how you remember it, this is a sound strategy for protecting yourself from sunburn and the potentially deadly effects of skin cancer.

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