Sun Protection Facts You Need to Know

If you've been less than diligent about slathering on sunscreen in the past, consider this: Melanoma is now the most common cancer in women age 25 to 29, and second only to breast cancer in women 30 to 34, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

Protecting your skin takes just a little planning and shopping before heading outdoors. With the number of quality sunscreens, bronzing products and self-tanners (much safer than getting a suntan) available, there's no excuse for damaging your skin.

Here's how to beat the sun -- May is National Skin Cancer Awareness Month, by the way -- this summer and for the rest of your life:

Skin Care 101: wear sunscreen or sunblock!To protect against skin cancer and premature aging, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen or sunblock that protects against both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 15 or higher. UVB rays pose risk to top layers of skin and lead to sunburn (think "B" for burn). UVA rays affect under layers of skin, which leads to premature aging (think "A" for aging). All sunscreens protect from UVB rays but only broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both.

For immediate protection, go for the block. While many people use "sunscreen" and "sunblock" interchangeably, there's a difference. Sunscreen contains chemicals that absorb UV rays before they damage the skin. Sunblock contains particles that act as a physical wall against UV rays. While sunscreen must be applied 30 minutes prior to sun exposure, sunblock begins working immediately. Dermatologists say experiment with what works best with your skin and plan accordingly.

Be an early bird or night owl. The AAD also recommends avoiding sun exposure from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are strongest. For athletes, this means performing outdoor workouts in the early morning or evening hours. For those who must be outdoors during peak exposure, take extra precaution. If you'll be in the sun longer than an hour, opt for an SPF of 30 or higher, since sweat can quickly dilute your level of protection.

SPF equals time to burn. The SPF, or sun-protection factor, number indicates how much additional time you can stay outside without burning. In other words, if your skin would normally burn in 10 minutes without sunscreen, wearing an SPF of 15 means you can be outside 15 times longer, or 150 minutes (2.5 hours), before your skin burns.

Reapplying is critical, but don't be fooled. Reapplying sunscreen ensures you are getting the original SPF you desired, but it doesn't mean you'll get extra coverage. Using the example above, if you reapply SPF 15 after two hours, you'll be avoiding dilution from sweat and ensuring you receive the maximum protection of 2.5 hours. Adding more sunscreen does not equal longer protection. To receive longer protection use a higher SPF to begin, or take a break from the sun and return with fresh SPF 15 applied.

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