Know Your SPF Facts

Staying sun-safe and watching your skin closely for any changes are important factors in maintaining healthy skin.

Limit Sun Exposure

Sun exposure contributes to both melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, and sun protection over the course of a lifetime is the most important aspect of skin cancer prevention. Because much of our sun exposure occurs during childhood, it is important for parents and grandparents to help children develop good sun protection habits.

Sun protection involves more than just sunscreen. Optimal sun protection involves avoidance of the sun during peak hours, use of protective clothing such as hats, and then sunscreen. And stay away from indoor tanningthose harmful rays are just as dangerous inside as they are in the great outdoors.

Not sure which sunscreen to choose or how much to apply? Here are some ground rules from the American Academy of Dermatology (

  • Apply sunscreen at least a half-hour before you go outside.
  • Sunscreen should be water resistant, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, and should offer broad-spectrum protection, meaning it protects skin from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hourseven if its cloudyand after swimming or sweating.
  • When you use sunscreen, be sure that you are applying enough to get the full benefit and that you reapply frequently.

Early Detection

Because skin cancer affects people of all ages, its important that we all learn to recognize the signs. As a general rule, watching your skin carefully for changes is an important first step in detecting cancer. Note any new moles or changes in your skin and be especially aware if there is bleeding or if something does not appear to be healing well. For melanoma, specifically, using the ABCDE guidelines can help you recognize suspicious skin changes:[1]A refers to asymmetry, B refers to border, C refers to color, D refers to diameter, and E refers to evolving. A skin lesion (typically a mole) may be a cause for concern if it is asymmetric (one half is different from the other half), has an irregular or jagged border, has more than one color, is larger in diameter than a pencil eraser, or is changing.

Although these criteria can help you recognize melanoma, its important to remember that its possible for melanoma to not have any of these characteristics, and its also possible for a non-cancerous skin change to have all these characteristics.

In addition to monitoring your skin yourself, you may benefit from regular skin exams by a dermatologist, particularly if you have a family or personal history of skin cancer.

[1] Abbasi NR, Shaw HM, Rigel DS, et al. Early diagnosis of cutaneous melanoma: revisiting the ABCD criteria. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004;292(22):2771-76.

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