Despite numerous studies proving that we should all be participating in sun-protective behaviors, only 30% of adults reported using sunscreen in 2005. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. with 58,094 Americans diagnosed with melanomas of the skin in 2007. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and as we all prepare for a summer of swimming and picnicking, it's important to know how to best protect our children and ourselves from the harmful effects of the sun.


Not all sunscreens are created equal. They range from the insignificant level of 2 all the way up to 70. There are some that protect from UVA (long-term effects of the sun such as wrinkles), those that protect from UVB (sunburn), and those that protect against both. So how do you choose? The American Academy of Dermatology makes it simple.

Rather than do the inaccurate math (how long it takes you to burn times the level of SPF equals how long you can bake) the AAD recommends sticking to a sunscreen with 30 SPF or greater that also offers broad-spectrum protection against both UVA and UVB rays. The AAD also recommends water-resistant sunscreen. In addition, a full ounce of sunscreen is needed to best protect your entire body, but dermatologists say most of us use only about 25-50% of this recommended amount. Use sunscreen every time you're outside for more than 20 minutes, and be sure to apply it 15 minutes before you head out. It is also important to reapply your sunscreen after swimming or sweating, or every two hours.

Protective Clothing

Even with sunscreen, protective clothing is important in shielding your body from harmful sun rays. Choose to wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and long sleeves and pants whenever you can, and dress your children the same way. In addition, when shopping for swimsuits, look for ones that cover more skin and include an SPF in the material.


The AAD recommends seeking shade during the hours of the day when the sun is at its peak, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You'll know because your shadow will be shorter than you are. If you're at the beach, consider it your down-time to play in the sand under an umbrella, or have lunch in the shade. Just remember that the sun's rays can reflect off the water and sand (and snow) and cause just as much damage as direct sunlight. If you must be in the sun during this time of day, make sure you are protected with clothing and sunscreen.

While it is important to use sunscreen year-round, it is vital during the months in which we are outdoors more often than not. Remembering to use sunscreen liberally, to seek shade, and to wear protective clothing will help guard your family from skin cancer and skin damage.

All children should wear sunscreen and protective clothing, but points out that certain children are considered high-risk, including those with very fair hair and skin, those with a family history of skin cancer, and those with moles on their skin. In addition, don't try to pre-tan at the tanning salon and keep an eye on everyone's skin for signs of cancer, which is treatable if detected early.

The summer sun is rising — stay safe and sunburn-free!