Do You Really (Like, Really) Need to Wear Sunscreen Every Day? | Rounds With Dr. E

Will you ever feel comfortable in your own skin? That is, if you don't make an effort to protect it? Although 64% of adults do report wearing sunscreen when outside for prolonged periods of time, it turns out that only about 10% of people surveyed actually protect themselves daily, according to a recent review.

No matter what your skin tone is, unless you live in a cave with no sunlight, daily protection with either sunscreen, sunblock or protective clothing can not only protect you from developing sunburns (ouch!) but can significantly reduce your risk of developing skin cancer, particularly the deadliest type called melanoma. In addition, for those of you wanting to keep your youthful looks, daily sunscreen has been shown to reduce the development of wrinkles. A great teacher once told me that the best way to not have wrinkles is not to get them in the first place (think of how much money you can save on useless creams that claim to diminish wrinkles).

Actress and health advocate Kerry Washington perfectly debunks a dangerous medical myth as she promotes daily sunscreen use and routine dermatologic screening. "There have been a lot of misconceptions, particularly in communities of color, that because you have melanin in your skin, you don't need to protect it," she told HuffPost. Melanin is a chemical in the skin that not only gives the skin its color but also absorbs some of the sun's ultraviolet rays. It is true that people with lighter skin tones and therefore less melanin are at higher risk of developing sunburns and several types of skin cancers; however, as Kerry Washington asserts, "people who have skin tones that have more pigment tend to think they're less at risk. But we actually have become more vulnerable because of the thinking that we don't have to be careful." In fact, people with darker skin tones do develop skin cancers such as melanoma, albeit less often. Unfortunately, when that does occur, they tend to have worse outcomes, as their overall five-year melanoma survival rates are significantly lower: 75% instead of 93%, as they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage.

It's all about protection!

Daily use (even during the winter) of sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher reduces your risk of developing melanoma by 50%. For those of you planning a fun day in the sun, it is recommended that you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (which protects against both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays) with an SPF 30 or higher and reapply every two hours. In fact, no matter how high the SPF number is, sunscreen needs to be reapplied every two hours (don't assume your SPF 80 protects you for 80 hours). In fact, the SPF, or sun protection factor, number indicates how well protected you are from the sun's ultraviolet B rays. If you apply sunscreen with an SPF 30, it would take you 30 times as long to burn than if you weren't wearing any sunscreen. In addition, if you are planning a nice swim, make sure that your sunscreen is water-resistant, indicating that it should be effective for at least 40 min in the water.

And as sun exposure can cause cataracts and melanoma of the eye, remember to don your sunglasses with ultraviolet ray protection, as you dress up in your other stylish sun protection clothing.

Fun fact: sunscreen and sunblock are not the same things.

Sunscreen contains filters that absorb or reflect the ultraviolet rays before they reach and damage the skin, whereas sunblock, such as titanium oxide or zinc oxide, is a physical barrier. People with sensitive skin may tolerate sunblock better. Most products tend to contain both. For those of you worried that sunscreen gets absorbed and causes cancer, there is no scientific evidence to substantiate this. However, there is substantial evidence that ultraviolet rays from the sun and from tanning beds (stay away) do cause cancer.

Early detection with routine skin screening is important for everyone.

When melanoma is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99%. Those of you who have a family history of melanoma or spend ample time outdoors require even more frequent screening. For anyone who notices a new skin lesion or one that is getting bigger, changing color or becoming raised, schedule a visit with a dermatologist.

By Dr. Marc Eisenberg

Dr. Marc Sabin Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C. is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. He is co-author of the book "Am I Dying?!: A Complete Guide to Your Symptoms and What to Do Next" and co-host of the "Am I Dying?!" podcast, which provides light-hearted advice for the hypochondriac in all of us.

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