Summer is just around the corner, which mean you and your family will be spending more time outside—whether it’s vacationing at the beach, going to a ballgame, or a run after work. By now, you should be well aware that sunscreen is an absolute must, however many people make mistakes when applying and wearing sunscreen. Increased exposure to the sun dramatically raises the risk of skin cancer. Studies have shown that bad sunburns, even in childhood and teenage years, can cause potentially fatal skin cancer later in life.

Sunscreen 101

Everyone, regardless of skin color, should apply sunscreen every time they go outside. Even on cloudy days, up to 80 percent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can reach your skin. The sun’s rays that are most damaging to the skin are called ultraviolet (UV) rays. There are two basic types of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth’s surface — UVB and UVA. UVB rays are responsible for producing sunburn. The UVB rays also play the greatest role in causing skin cancers, including malignant melanoma.

When choosing and applying sunscreen:

  • Make sure to choose a sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher. A sunscreen with SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays.
  • Choose a sunscreen with “broad spectrum” protection. Sunscreens with protect against both UVA and UVB rays. All sunscreen products protect against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer. But UVA rays also contribute to skin cancer and premature aging.
  • “Water-resistant” doesn’t mean waterproof. Water-resistant sunscreens can provide protection for wet or sweaty skin for 40 or 80 minutes. All sunscreens should be reapplied every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
  • Apply at least one ounce (about the size of a shot glass) every two hours.
  • Apply sunscreen to the entire body—including ears and lips. Little known fact: the ears are the most common body part afflicted by skin cancer, because people often forget to apply sunscreen to them.

Other ways to protect your skin

  • Limit your time in the sun. UV rays are usually most harmful between 10 am and 4 pm—so plan your time outside around that time period, if possible.
  • Cover up. Cover exposed skin with a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and wear a hat. UV light can still pass through fabric, so choose garments that are specially designed to block UV rays—especially for children and babies.
  • Seek shade. You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter.