Using sunscreen could save you from skin cancer

Health experts have some advice.
Published: Jul. 26, 2023 at 3:58 AM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - The warm weather and sunny days are upon us. With temperatures nearing the hundreds, people are out and about. However, if not protected properly, prolonged time in the sun can cause damage to the skin.

When out in the sun, playing and having fun, you can’t forget about one important piece of protection, sunscreen.

Sunscreen is a substance that helps protect the skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet A and B rays, according to the National Cancer Institute. Ultraviolet A rays are said to age and penetrate deep into the skin, meanwhile, B rays create burns, but a broad spectrum sunscreen will protect from both, says medical doctor Siri Knutsen-Larson, a medical and surgical dermatologist with Monument Health.

Prolonged time in the sun without sunscreen leads to sunburns, which heightens an individual’s risk of skin cancer.

“So what we didn’t know when I was younger, is that every sunburn before the age of 18 is what increases the risk of skin cancer the most. So the patients I see now who are in the baby boomer generation have a much higher risk of skin cancer because of that fact. So today as it gets warmer outside and we start seeing more outdoor time with children we really want to make sure that we’re applying that sunscreen, reapplying it every two hours actually, to make it remain effective, to decrease that risk of their skin cancer long term,” said Knutsen-Larson.

If your summer activities include water, Knutsen-Larson says you should apply sunscreen more often, every hour. Saying sunscreen isn’t waterproof, just water resistant.

“So the water can do two things, it can absorb sunlight it can also reflect sunlight. So if you’re in the water and your body is above, think about that water as a mirror and it’s bouncing that sun right back onto your face, so in a lot of ways it’s more dangerous to be in water than not,” Knutsen-Larson continued.

Knutsen-Larson says that the number on the sunscreen bottle has nothing to do with how long it will protect from sun rays, but instead that it’s a measurement of how well the sunscreen will protect from sunburn. She suggests people use between SPF 30 and 50 for the best levels of protection.

“Sunburns can be basically anywhere from just feeling a little bit itchy, and maybe mildly red, to I saw a patient a few weeks ago who had true blisters that looked like she had been a burn victim. So it can really vary based on the intensity of the sun, different medications can make sunburns better or worse. Where you are, every thousand feet you go up in elevation you’re going to increase your UV exposure by 8% to 10%,” Knutsen-Larson said.

She says she suggests physical sunscreen instead of chemical for kids, saying the physical sunscreen bounces sun rays off, and chemical-based sunscreens will protect you, but they absorb the sunlight and scatter it.

“I think the biggest thing is making sure that a child or parent is using a sunscreen that the child and parent will continue to use. I prefer the physical blockers for younger children, just because I think it’s harder to get the sunscreen on them more than once. Physical blockers are actually going to act as a knight’s armor against the sun, so when you put those physical blockers on, they’re going to bounce the UV rays off. Whereas if you use more of the chemical-based sunscreens, they’re still going to protect you, but they’re going to absorb the sunlight and scatter it versus just bounce it off. But again if it really boils down to what’s effect for the parent to get on the child, that’s most important,” said Knutsen-Larson.

She states that even with cloud cover, sunscreen is important because UV rays still penetrate through the clouds. Knutsen-Larson goes on to say some of the worst sunburns she’s seen come from cloudy days, because people don’t think they need sunscreen.