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With Spring Here, Use Sun Sense to Enjoy It

Experts offer advice on keeping skin safe from harmful rays

SATURDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Spring brings warmer weather and more outdoor time for most Americans, and along with that comes the need to protect the skin from the sun.

Before heading out, suggests the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, remember to:

  • Avoid peak sun hours. The rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so staying indoors during these times is the best protection.
  • Wear the right sunscreen every day. Use products labeled for broad-spectrum protection -- to help block ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays -- and with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30. Slather on sunscreen about 20 minutes before going in the sun, using about an ounce (the size of a shot glass) to cover your entire body. Reapply every two to three hours spent outdoors. Also, use lip balm with an SPF rating.
  • Wear the right clothing. A typical cotton T-shirt offers protection equivalent to only SPF 6, far below the commonly recommended minimum of SPF 15. Wear clothing with a thicker weave or apply sunscreen under a thin, porous shirt. In addition, a hat with a full, wide brim gives added protection to the face, neck and scalp, and sunglasses help protect the eyes from damage.
  • Ignore skin type and base tans. Everyone can burn, regardless of skin pigmentation and even if already tanned. Sunscreen and clothing, not skin color, offer the best protection.

Sunscreen, in fact, should be worn regardless of what you're doing while outside, including swimming, the society suggests. Water doesn't protect against the sun's rays, so sunscreen and, if possible, a sun-protective bathing suit are recommended.

Other tips from the group include reminders that:

  • Breaks soothe but don't protect. Swimming and hanging in the shade for a few minutes may make hot skin feel better, but they do not prevent burns.
  • Clouds are not a foolproof sunscreen. Clouds filter only about 20 percent of the sun's UV rays, meaning 80 percent still get through to the skin.
  • Certain medications and the sun don't mix. Some antibiotics, for instance, increase the skin's sensitivity to the sun, making you more prone to sunburn. Ask a doctor or pharmacist for help and read directions and warnings carefully on all medications you take.

And though springtime prompts thoughts of sun and skin, keeping an eye on your skin should be a year-round task, the society says. Watch for early signs of skin cancer -- discoloration, a mole that changes shape or color or a patch of rough, red skin. And if you notice anything, contact a doctor.

More information

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has more on sun safety.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, news release, March 2009

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