Many people love the look of golden, tanned skin. But if you spend a lot of time in the sun, you may have made a decision that puts you at risk. Every time you overexpose your skin to the sun’s harmful UV rays, it causes cell damage that can lead to increased risks of skin cancer.
While this doesn’t mean that everyone who gets a tan will contract cancer, Dr. Clement Banda at MD Vein & Skin Specialists in Columbia, Maryland, sees enough cases of the disease to know the devastation it can cause. That’s why he urges everyone to use sunscreen every day. But not all products are the same. Here’s how to choose the most effective sunscreen this summer.
Chances are you’ve stood staring at the overwhelming array of sunscreen products in your local drugstore wondering how all those bottles, tubes, and cans differ. One of the first things you need to look for is the phrase: broad spectrum.
The sun’s ultraviolet rays come in two types: UVA and UVB. Just about every sunscreen on the shelf blocks out UVB rays, the ones that give you a sunburn and may lead to skin cancer. But what you really need is a sunscreen that blocks out all of the UV rays, including UVA, known for causing skin cancer and premature aging as well.
Products that have been tested and meet the FDA standards for protecting you against all the harmful rays can carry the term broad spectrum.
Sun protection factor (SPF)
Most people are familiar with the SPF number on their sunscreen labels. You may reach for the higher numbers thinking they’re better.
But the SPF is simply an indicator of how effective it is at filtering out UVB rays. The problem with this numbering system is the misconception about what it means. For instance, you might think that if you choose SPF 30 over SPF 15, you can stay in the sun twice as long. But there’s only a 5% difference between the two. You could even opt for SPF 50, but you’d only get a 6% difference.
The key is not just in the number, but in it’s the usage. You need to reapply your sunscreen every two hours to maintain its protective properties.
Don’t bother with products that claim to be waterproof or sweatproof, there’s no such thing. Your sunscreen may say it’s water resistant to get around regulations about false claims, but even these products are only effective in wet conditions for about 40-80 minutes.
Another surprising fact about sunscreen is that it expires. The FDA requires all sunscreens to last for three full years. This is good news because it means you can grab that bottle that’s still in your beach bag from last summer and use up the rest of it. But do check the date, because if it’s past that three-year period, it’s not going to keep you safe from those UV rays.
Why does sunscreen matter?
Sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect yourself from skin cancer.
Another way is to come in to see Dr. Banda if you have any suspicious moles or patches of skin.
Melanoma, a very aggressive type of skin cancer, appears as an abnormal mole. Not all moles are cancerous, but those that generally have irregular shapes and edges and they tend to change over time. That’s why Dr. Banda uses FotoFinder® to monitor your moles. This computerized mapping system that allows him to accurately track any changes and catch melanoma early while it’s highly treatable.
If you have many moles all over your body or have noticed changes in the color, shape, or size of your moles, you may benefit from mole mapping.
Other signs of skin cancer to watch for are sores that won’t heal, flat waxy patches, or raised pink or white bumps. If you think you might have some type of skin cancer, Dr. Banda can let you know for sure and begin treatment right away. From cryotherapy and curettage to Mohs surgery, you can trust Dr. Banda, a diplomate of the American Board of Laser Surgery, the American Board of Venous and Lymphatic Medicine, and the National Board of Physicians and Surgeons.
Call 443-267-2428 or book an appointment online to get your skin checked before summer.