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Sunscreen tips, advice on avoiding sunburn, skin cancer

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Here comes the sun, and it's not always alright. That's because too much of a good thing can damage the body, causing sunburn, accelerated skin aging, and the development of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually.

The liberal use of sunscreen products is the best defense against harmful or prolonged exposure to the sun, when combined with minimizing exposure time and wearing light-colored protective clothing and headwear.

Here are some tips for the proper use of sunscreen:

1.     Which type of sunscreen - a lotion, cream or a spray - is more effective?

According to Dr. Abrar Qureshi, dermatology chair at Brown University's Warren Alpert Medical School, opt for the lotion or cream most of the time.

"With sprays, people often don't apply enough to get the full sunscreen protection. But sprays are good for hard to reach places like the back, so you may want to use a combination," said Qureshi.

Inhaling spray mist can ingest chemicals that are alleged to be harmful or even carcinogenic.

2.     Sunlight contains potentially harmful wavelengths of ultraviolet light - UVA and UVB - which one can cause more skin damage and how to know if your sunscreen provides protection from both?

Ultraviolet A (long-wave radiation) penetrates deeper into the skin and contributes greatly to skin aging and wrinkling. UVA rays are less intense than UVB rays, but can up to 50 times more prevalent. They easily penetrate glass and clouds and as such, we are always exposed to them. Although UVB has been thought of as a greater accelerant for skin cancer, recent studies implicate UVA as well. The more intense UVB ray does not penetrate the skin as deeply as UVA, but more directly produces sunburn, tanning while also increasing skin aging and causing skin cancer. UVB radiation is strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., but UVB rays do not penetrate glass.

The most effective sunscreens incorporate broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB. There are currently 16 active ingredients approved by the FDA for use in sunscreens, which fall into "absorbers" or "blockers" categories. When choosing a sunscreen, select one that offers multi-spectrum protection. Simply choosing a sunscreen with a high SPF does not guarantee broad-spectrum protection.

3.     What is SPF and how much of it is a good thing?

SPF means Sun Protection Factor. It is a measure of protection against UVB radiation only. Only broad-spectrum sunscreens offer both UVA and UVB protection. Most dermatologists recommend an SPF of between 15 and 50. The number refers to the amount of time the product will prevent skin reddening. Exposure to sunlight will generally create skin reddening after 20 minutes. An SPF of 15 means that it will prevent reddening up to 15 times longer. However, sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours due to evaporation or water exposure. In fact, sunscreen products will no longer be allowed to claim that they are waterproof, according to new FDA regulations.

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