You may have stopped baking in the summer sun, but many Americans are still not heeding the warnings: Melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, is on the rise, and skin cancer in general makes up half the cancer cases in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. We asked Manhattan-based dermatologist Dr. Amy Wechsler what mistakes she still sees her patients making and how to avoid them.
MISTAKE #1: Only being cautious during peak weather.
“I see a lot of sunburns before Memorial Day and after Labor Day,” says Dr. Wechsler. Check the heat index to ensure you’ll be fully prepared for a day in the sun, whether it’s during the summer or not. And remember that clouds don’t protect you, either. On overcast days, 80 percent of UV rays still make their way to you.
MISTAKE #2: Thinking you’re protected simply because you’re covered up.
“We get a lot of inadvertent sun exposure,” says Dr. Wechsler. Did you know UV rays can pass through clothing? On days when you’ll be in the sun for hours, suit up in garments that are specially made to better absorb harmful rays, indicated by a new rating system known as ultraviolet protection (UPF). Choose clothing with a 25-50 UPF rating, often available at athletic retailers like Athleta and REI. You can also use a laundry additive like Rit SunGuard to “wash” sunscreen into your clothes. Look for the ingredient Tinosorb®FD.
Finally, remember that you’re also getting UV exposure in your car or other vehicles. Try to avoid sitting by windows during peak sun hours, and don’t forget the sunscreen even if you won’t be outside.
MISTAKE #3: Using expired or overheated sunscreen.
First of all, if you’re not using up a bottle of sunscreen every year, you’re probably not applying it enough. But if you happen to have leftovers from season to season, heed the expiration date. It does lose its effectiveness, typically after two years.
And it’s fine to carry your sunscreen in your purse for touch-ups, but don’t leave it in a hot spot for hours, which can break down the active ingredients and make them less potent. If you’re at the pool or beach, keep it in a cooler with snacks and drinks instead of your beach bag. And never store it in your car.
MISTAKE #4: Not reapplying.
“Sunscreens that claim to provide ‘all-day protection’ and ‘water resistance’ are not reliable,” says Dr. Wechsler. “Ignore these promises and reapply all sunscreens at least every two to three hours and right after you’ve been sweating a lot or swimming.”
MISTAKE #5: Falling for crazy claims.
While a product marked SPF 75 or even 100 does block more UV rays than one with an SPF 50, the difference is negligible — about 1 percent between 50 and 100. “Anything higher than 50 will afford you a false sense of security,” she says. Look for a broad spectrum between SPF 30 and 50 and reapply throughout the day. There’s no shortcut.