Prolonged sun exposure this spring and summer could have far-reaching consequences that go beyond just the irritation of painful, sunburned skin. However, by taking simple steps, you can greatly reduce the risk of skin damage. Some of the precautions doctors recommend include conducting monthly self-examinations, reapplying sunscreen lotion with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater every two hours and forgoing sunbathing or trips to the tanning bed.

Skin cancer, which affects more people in the United States than any other form of cancer, is one of the only known cancers that can be greatly reduced or prevented by avoiding certain environmental factors. Ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause severe aging effects and cellular damage to sun-exposed skin. It is especially important for you to take special precautions when you’ll be out in the sun for several hours.

Whether it is a trip to the lake, watching a little league baseball game on a Saturday afternoon or mowing the lawn, it is important that you protect yourself, and your family, from excess sun. The period from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is when ultraviolet-B (UVB) rays are the strongest. If you will be outside during these times, a baseball cap or hat, sunscreen applied 30 minutes prior to outside activities and protective clothing that covers exposed areas is strongly suggested.

An SPF of 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB rays, which are the burning rays, and SPF 30 blocks 96 percent of UVB rays. You should choose a product that also protects against ultraviolet-A (UVA) rays, which are the aging rays. These types of sunscreens are labeled ‘”broad spectrum” sunscreens.

Sunscreen should include titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to best combat the sun’s ultraviolet rays and should be reapplied after getting out of water, even if the lotion is waterproof. The two most common areas susceptible to sun are the top of the ears and neck. Many children’s sunscreens are now formulated as sprays, which makes them easier to apply, but it’s also important to note that the "tan" from self-tanner products offers no protection from the sun.

Affecting more people in the United States than any other form of cancer, skin cancer is one of the only known cancers that can be greatly reduced or prevented by avoiding certain environmental factors, said Dr. Lawrence Mark, dermatology service chief at Eskenazi Health and assistant professor of Dermatology at the IU School of Medicine.

"Our general stance is sun avoidance is the best prevention," Dr. Mark said, adding the time it takes for skin damage to develop as a result of sun exposure can vary from person to person.

When conducting monthly self-examinations, a person should look closely for what dermatologists term the A-B-C-Ds, which stand for asymmetric, border, color and diameter.  Doctors stress any skin marks that are asymmetric, have an irregular border, recently changed in color or increased in diameter should be examined more closely.  Dr. Mark suggests if someone has a concern about skin health, he or she should make an appointment to see a primary care physician or dermatologist. 

The following are additional tips on sunscreen:

  • Check the expiration date on the sunscreen. Nearly full bottles of opened sunscreen can normally be kept for a year, provided they are stored in a cool, dry place, away from direct sunlight, avoiding extremes of temperature, with the lid tightly closed. Throw away your sunscreen if there is only a little left or it has separated or been contaminated.
  • Follow the instructions on the pack and apply the product generously – most people apply too little sunscreen for it to be effective.
  • Remember to reapply sunscreen every two hours during the day and after swimming.
  • Nothing blocks 100 percent of the sun’s rays, so you should also use protective clothing and hats, as well as sunscreen.
  • To avoid “frying,” do not apply too much greasy tanning oils, etc.