Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Using Sunscreen

Despite years of warnings by experts about the risks posed by exposure to UVA and UVB rays, a new national survey* on sunscreen use shows that nearly one-third (30%) of adults (18 and over) report not using sunscreen at all, while 71% of those who do use sunscreen don’t apply it until after already being out in the sun, having reached their outdoor destination.

“In this survey, conducted by the manufacturer of PreSun Sunscreen, only 29% indicate they pre-applied sunscreen before leaving their home, which is the proper thing to do,” says dermatologist Craig Eichler, M.D., fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and skin cancer/sun damage expert in Naples, Florida. That’s because the typical sunscreen product, whether cream, gel or spray, needs about 20 to 30 minutes on the skin to absorb to its best protection potential, he adds. “So you could potentially get sunburn in the meantime.”

Unfortunately, many people don’t realize it only takes as little as 15 minutes for the sun’s UVA and UVB rays to start damaging the skin, increasing the risk for sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging, particularly on days where the UV index is high. However, the PreSun survey found that 41% of sunscreen users FIRST applied sunscreen after they were already exposed to the sun’s harmful rays for a period of time.

“Even if you drop everything to apply sunscreen to yourself and your children immediately once you are outdoors [of which 17 percent of survey respondents say they do], you aren’t getting the full protection you need immediately,” warns Dr. Eichler. “While you are doing better than the person who doesn’t apply sunscreen at all, or waits a while to first apply it, you could potentially get sunburn in the meantime. It’s always best to just pre-apply before leaving home –even better, before you put on your clothing, which will enable you to apply it evenly and not miss any spots.”

In fact, most sunscreens work by reacting chemically with the skin, so they don't start absorbing damaging rays immediately and should be applied generously at least 20 minutes before going outside to reach maximum protection.

“Pre-applying sunscreen before leaving the house is one of the easiest and most crucial steps in preventing sun damage,” explains Dr. Eichler. “Many times people end up with sunburned skin, even if they are diligent with reapplying throughout the day, but what they don’t realize is that most of the damage happened in the first half hour.”

Dr. Eichler, who sees patients of all nationalities, skin colors and backgrounds in his Naples practice, cautions that people of all skin types need to be vigilant about sun protection, even those who tan easily and rarely burn. Although a suntan is not painful like sunburn, it too is a sign of skin damage that can lead to skin cancer and premature aging.

“In addition to taking the proper precautions to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, you should get regular skin cancer screenings to look for abnormalities before they turn into something more serious,” advises Dr. Eichler. Whenever in doubt, a doctor should examine the skin, since skin cancer, even melanoma, can be completely curable when diagnosed in the early stages.

For more sun safety tips and information about understanding the UV index, please visit

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