Why You Need to Keep Using Sunblock

How often is someone diagnosed with skin cancer in the U.S.? Is it once per day or once per hour?

In reality, someone will be diagnosed with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, every six minutes in the U.S. throughout 2016, reports the American Cancer Society. In addition, one person will die every hour from the disease, and skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S.

Skin protection remains the “best way to lower risk for skin changes,” such as damaged skin. However, recent findings by Consumer Reports have reopened the conversation about how well sunscreen works, and wide reporting of their findings may make some clients feel like abandoning sunscreen is necessary.

As a community health provider, you need to help your clients understand what the findings actually mean, how they relate to the SPF rating and why sunscreen continues to be a necessity.


How Did Consumer Reports Test Sunscreens?

Consumer Reports tested more than 60 sunscreens for effectiveness against UVB through actual testing on panelists.

Each sunscreen was applied to six places on panelists’ backs, and panelists were then submerged in water. Panelists were then exposed to a UVB light simulator, similar to a tanning bed, for different time intervals. Each panelist’s back was examined for redness after 24 hours. Consumer Reports assigned UVB scores to how well sunscreens functioned after this process.

Testing of the UVA effectiveness involved the smearing of the sunscreen on a plastic bag. Testers used a photometer to determine how much UVA light passed through the treated plastic when exposed to the UV light simulator.


Consumer Reports’ Findings.

Most of the tested products performed well, but 43 percent of all tested sunscreens did not perform as well as the SPF rating of the product claimed.

The sun protective factor (SPF) identifies how well a product protects the skin from damage due to UVA and UVB rays. Some products may be labeled as UVA- or UVB-specific SPF, but broad spectrum SPF ratings refer to equal protection against both forms of UV radiation, explains MedlinePlus.

However, that does not mean the products fail to perform at all. It simply implies that reapplication may be necessary more often than directed. Due to legal reasons, the exact names of the tested products will not be listed here, but a complete list of all tested sunscreens is available at Consumer Reports.


Should You Avoid Low-Performing Sunscreens?

With 25 out of 60 sunscreens performing below SPF expectations when tested, it is easy to assume all sunscreens do not work as expected. Rather promoting the non-use of sunscreens entirely, this information only serves to heighten the use of sunscreens when outdoors.

Sunscreens may need to be applied more frequently, and low-performing sunscreens may need to be reapplied after spending time in water. To better serve community health, providers need to help clients understand this information does not negate recommendations for the application of sunscreen, which include the following:

  • Sunscreen should be applied when spending any amount of time outdoors.
  • Apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before going outdoors. This helps the skin to absorb the sun-blocking components of the compound.
  • Sunscreen should be applied in large amounts to all exposed areas. Skin cancer can appear on any area of the body. As a result, sunscreen should be applied to the face, ears, feet and nose. Even if hair loss is existent on the scalp in men or women, some sunscreen should be applied to the scalp. Otherwise, a hat should be worn, and apply a sunscreen-type lip balm.
  • Most sunscreens advise reapplication every two hours. However, the recent findings by Consumer Reports indicate the need to reapply about twice as often as recommended. Sunscreens are not harmful as long as they are not ingested. For those with sensitive skin, a mineral-based sunblock, such as one with zinc oxide or titanium oxide may be used.


Does Anything Else Impact When and How to Use Sunblock?

Summer is only just beginning, and in the U.S., the sun’s rays are at peak strength during the start of summer. Clients need to consider the following factors to better protect their skin:

  • UV rays are strongest between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Exposure to UV rays increases at higher altitudes. Going to the mountains means sunblock may need to be reapplied even more often.
  • Reflective surfaces, such as water, sand, areas that are painted white and concrete can actually cause more exposure to UV rays.
  • Clouds or haze enhance UV rays, making them stronger and more likely to result in sunburn.
  • AVOID sun lamps and tanning beds. 15 minutes in a tanning bed is equal to 12 hours of unprotected damage from the sun.


Final Thoughts

Having a beach body is great, and it seems like everyone loves a tan. However, skin cancer is deadly, and it is caused by the same rays that result in tanning of the skin. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the incidence of melanoma is expected to increase steadily in the coming years.

This is not the time to get skittish over the effectiveness of sunblock, but it is the time to start reapplying and watching over your skin more carefully. Some sunburns are inevitable, but each incident needs to become a part of the knowledge base. If one sunscreen works better for you, your clients, your coworkers or your family members better than a different product, write it down and share it with others. If you have not used sunscreen before, shoot for one that has an SPF rating of at least 30.

By understanding what the findings by Consumer Reports mean, you can leverage this information to increase awareness about skin cancer and when to use sunblock. It will improve community health and help everyone learn how to protect themselves from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays.

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

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