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Sunscreen Q&A - Part 3 of 3

Q. What is the difference between a sunscreen and a sunblock?

A. Since sunscreens can now either chemically absorb UV rays, or absorb and deflect them, the term sunblock is no longer used.

It's important to find a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection and includes ingredients such as benzophenones, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and avobenzone (Parsol 1789).

Q. Is sunscreen application all I need to do to protect myself from the sun?

A. Because overexposure to ultraviolet light is the primary cause of melanoma, dermatologists recommend the following precautions:

  • Avoid "peak" sunlight hours -- 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. -- when the sun's rays are the strongest.
  • Seek shade whenever possible. Remember "No shadow…seek the shade!" If your shadow is shorter than you are, the damaging rays of the sun are at their strongest and you're likely to sunburn.
  • Apply a broad spectrum sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or higher, apply 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every two hours, especially when playing, gardening, swimming or doing any other outdoor activities. Sunscreens should not be used to increase the time spent in intense sunlight or instead of protective clothing.
  • Wear protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirt and pants during prolonged periods of sun exposure.
A number of studies have confirmed that repeated sunburns substantially increase the risk for melanoma.

This is especially true for childhood sunburns because there is more time and opportunity for subsequent sun damage to lead to melanoma.

Q. Is there a safe way to tan?

A. There is no safe way to tan.

A suntan is the skin's response to an injury. Tanning occurs when the sun's ultraviolet rays penetrate the skin's inner layer, causing the skin to produce more melanin as a response to the injury.

Chronic exposure to the sun results in a change in the skin's texture causing wrinkling and age spots. Thus, tanning to improve appearance is ultimately self-defeating.

Every time you tan, you accumulate damage to the skin. This damage, in addition to accelerating the aging process, also increases your risk for all types of skin cancer, including melanoma.

Q. Are tanning booths a safer way to tan?

A. In spite of claims that tanning booths offer "safe" tanning, artificial radiation carries all the risks of natural sunlight.

Tanning booths emit UVA radiation, which poses both short and long-term risks to the skin, including cataracts (eye damage), sunburns, skin cancer and premature aging. In addition, there can be damage to the body's immune system and reactions to certain fragrances, lotions, moisturizers and medications.

Many tanning salons are unregulated, allowing customers (specially those whose skin is incapable of tanning) access to tanning beds without supervision or eye protection.

The American Academy of Dermatology supports local and/or statewide tanning parlor legislation. This legislation usually requires that warning signs be prominently displayed in tanning salons and list the hazards of such exposure, among other possible regulatory provisions.

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