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Tips to avoid the most common sunscreen mistakes

With summer around the corner, and May being melanoma awareness month, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) is advising sun seekers of common sunscreen mistakes.

Dermatologists suggest seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and applying water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. A recent survey conducted by the AAD found that individuals are applying sunscreen incorrectly leaving them vulnerable to the sun’s dangerous UV rays.

According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Canada—more than breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined. With 80-90% of skin cancers caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, dermatologists from the AAD say most cases of skin cancer can be prevented by protecting the skin from the sun’s UV rays.

“Sunscreen is a vital tool in the fight against skin cancer, including melanoma, the deadliest form,” said Dr. Tanya Kormeili, a board-certified dermatologist, in an AAD press release. “However, in a recent survey, the AAD found that only about a third of Americans are reapplying their sunscreen every two hours while outside. Since sunscreen wears off, incorrect usage leaves you unprotected and susceptible to skin cancer.”

To help protect the skin, and reduce the risk of skin cancer, Dr. Kormeili shared five common sunscreen mistakes along with tips to avoid them:

  1. Ignoring the label. To effectively protect from the sun’s harmful rays, the AAD recommends looking for sunscreens that are broad-spectrum, water-resistant and have an SPF of 30 or higher.

  2. Using too little. Most individuals only apply 25-50% of the recommended amount of sunscreen. However, to fully cover the body, most adults need about one ounce of sunscreen – or enough to fill a shot glass. Apply enough sunscreen to cover all skin that is not covered by clothing. Apply the sunscreen 15 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply every two hours while outdoors or after swimming or sweating.

  3. Applying only in sunny weather. The AAD found that only about 20% of Americans use sunscreen on cloudy days. However, the sun emits harmful UV rays all year long. Even on cloudy days, up to 80% of UV rays can penetrate the skin. To protect the skin, and reduce the risk of skin cancer, Dr. Kormeili recommends applying sunscreen every time individuals go outside, even on cloudy days.

  4. Using an old bottle. The FDA requires that all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years. Throw out sunscreen if it is expired. If the sunscreen does not have an expiration date, Dr. Kormeili suggests writing the purchase date directly on the bottle as a reference point for when to toss it out.

  5. Relying solely on sunscreen. Since no sunscreen can block 100% of the sun’s UV rays, it is also important to seek shade and wear protective clothing, including a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection.

The AAD estimates approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day, and nearly 20 Americans die from melanoma every day.

“Sunscreen is the most important skin care product you can use as it helps prevent sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging, including wrinkles and age spots,” Dr. Kormeili said. “However, to ensure the best protection for you and your family, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions before using.”

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