Many skin changes, such as skin cancer and age spots, are caused by exposure to the sun.
The two types of sun rays that can injure the skin are ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA affects the deep layers of skin. UVA is more intense than UVB and is the main cause of sunburns.
The best way to lower your risk of skin changes is to protect your skin from the sun. This includes using sunscreen and other protective measures.
Adults and children should wear clothing to protect skin against the sun. This is in addition to applying sunscreen. Suggestions for clothing include:
It is important not to rely on sunscreen alone for sun protection. Wearing sunscreen is also not a reason to spend more time in the sun. Sunscreen does not appear to protect against melanoma and other skin cancers. Other factors seem to play a role in how these skin cancers develop.
The best sunscreens to choose include:
Avoid products that combine sunscreen and insect repellent. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied often. Insect repellent applied too often could be harmful.
If your skin is sensitive to the chemicals in sunscreen products, choose a mineral sunscreen such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Less expensive products that have the same ingredients work as well as expensive ones.
When applying sunscreen:
While in the sun, children should be well covered with clothing, sunglasses, and hats. Children should be kept out of the sun during peak sunlight hours.
Sunscreens are safe for most toddlers and children. But use products that contain zinc and titanium, as they contain fewer chemicals that may irritate young skin.
Do not use sunscreen on babies younger than 6 months without talking to your doctor or pediatrician first.
Jou PC, Feldman RJ, Tomecki KJ. UV protection and sunscreens: what to tell patients. Cleveland Clin J Med. 2012;79:427-436.
Krakowski AC, Kaplan LA. Exposure to radiation from the sun. In: Auerbach PS. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 14.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA press release: FDA announces changes to better inform consumers about sunscreen. Available at http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm258940.htm. Accessed August 19, 2013.
Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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