There has been a steady rise in the incidence of skin cancer in the last few decades. Overexposure to the sun is one of the main reasons for the increase in skin cancer (1). The sun’s UV light can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes.

Sunlight consists of invisible UV rays, which is made up of UVA and UVB rays. The UVA rays can penetrate deep into our skin and cause genetic damage to cells, photo-aging (wrinkles and skin sagging), and immune-suppression. The UVB rays penetrate the epidermis and cause sunburn and cataract. UVB is also responsible for sunburn – a significant risk factor for skin cancer, especially melanoma (2).

According to Cancer Research, UK, if you get sunburnt just once every two years, you can triple your risk of developing melanoma skin cancer (3). Sunburn does not necessarily mean that your skin is raw, peeling, or blistering. Even if your skin has gone red or pink in the sun, it means it is sunburnt.

A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School followed 110,000 nurses over 20 years and discovered that women who had five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 to 20 compared to those that had none, were 80% more likely to develop melanoma (4)

What spots do people often miss while applying sunscreen?

You may go out and buy the most expensive bottle of sunscreen with the highest SPF you can find, but it can’t protect you unless you apply it right. Some of the other areas that we miss while applying sunscreen are –

1. Eyelids

According to a 2017 study, people often overlook the eyelids while applying sunscreen despite being more prone to skin cancer (5).  Five to ten percent of all skin cancers occur on the eyelid (6).

2. Ears

Our ears have many crevices and grooves. We may apply some sunscreen on our ear lobes, but we often miss the other parts. Between 5 to 10 % of skin cancers develop in the ear (7). Men and women with short hair and women who wear their hair up are at a higher risk of sunburn on their ears. Spend a few extra minutes to apply sunscreen on all parts of your ears.

3. Scalp

The delicate skin on your scalp is at a high risk of getting sunburnt if you’re not wearing a hat or a cap. Whether you have thinning hair or lustrous locks, the sun can damage your scalp and hair part. You can use sunscreen sprays or powders to protect your scalp.

4. Lips

Majority of lip cancers appear on the lower lip as it is slanted up towards the sun. Chronic exposure to the UV light causes mutations in the cells that form the skin covering the lip. In some cases, over time, this may lead to cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (8). Wear a lip balm that contains SPF to protect your lips.

5. Tops of feet

The soles of our feet have a thick layer of dead skin cells that protect from the sun. The tops of the feet, on the other hand, face direct sunlight when you wear flip flops or other open-top shoes. Apply a generous dose of sunscreen on the tops of your feet when venturing out in the sun.

What tips do you have for making sunscreen a habit?

Wearing sunscreen is an essential preventive healthcare measure. We should always wear sunscreen, no matter what the weather or your skin color. Here are some tips to make wearing sunscreen a part of your daily routine –

1. Find the right product

We sometimes avoid using a product as it does not feel good on the skin. There is a wide variety of sunscreen options available in the market, find one that suits your skin type. Find a non-greasy sunscreen if you have oily skin. Waterproof sunscreen is ideal for a day out at the beach.

2. Consistency

Consistency is the key to forming a good habit. When you do something every day at the same time, the action becomes automatic. Just like you brush your teeth every day after getting up in the morning, you can make sunscreen a daily habit. Pick the same time and place and keep it consistent. You can apply your sunscreen after your bath every day.

3. Be prepared

You can keep a tube of sunscreen in your bag so that you can reapply it whenever possible. Make a habit of reapplying it during the afternoon before you head out for your lunch break.

4. Replace an existing skincare product

Adding to your daily skincare routine may not come naturally. However, you can swap a lotion that you have been using with one that SPF in it. This action will ensure that you use it every day.

5. Visualize the consequences

You may know the health benefits of using sunscreen but still can’t get into the habit of applying it every day. It may help if you can imagine your face with wrinkles, sun spots, and sagging skin. Keeping your skin looking younger can be an excellent motivation to use sunscreen.

How do you impress upon children and teens how important it is to be sun smart?

A few instances of serious sunburns can increase the risk of cancer for your kids later in life. Children need protection from the harmful rays of the sun. You must teach your children and teens the importance of being sun smart. Here are some ways to impress on them the importance of being sun smart –

1. Start young

Children need protection from the sun as much as the adults. You can start applying sunscreen once your baby is older than six months. Getting your children into the habit of apply sunscreen when they are younger will ensure that they stick to this habit all through their lives.

2. Lead by example

One of the best ways to teach your teens and kids to follow sun safety is by setting an example.  Children tend to emulate adults and will learn from you.

3. Let your pediatrician do the talking

Talk to your pediatrician about discussing sun safety with your children. Older children, especially teens, are more likely to follow the advice of the pediatrician.

4. Get the teachers involved

Make sure the teachers are practicing sun safety habits in school. Ask your child’s teacher to teach the importance of sun safety to your child.

5. Make sun safety fun

Children will follow fun safety if it is fun. You can get your child to sing ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ as you apply sunscreen. Buy fun accessories like hats and sunglasses. Tell them they can be out when their shadows are longer, and they have to be inside when the shadows are shorter.

What should you look for in a sunscreen?

A good sunscreen is vital for the health of your skin. However, buying a good sunscreen is not a simple task. With the wide variety of options available, purchasing the best sunscreen for you can be quite confusing. Here are a few pointers to finding the right sunscreen –

1. Sun protection factor

Make sure your sunscreen has  SPF 30 or more. The SPF is the level of protection that a sunscreen provides against UVB rays. A sunscreen with SPF 30 provides 97% protection from the UVB rays. SPF 50 sunscreens provide only slightly better protection of 98% from the sun.

2. Broad-spectrum protection

Choose a sunscreen that has the words ‘broad spectrum ‘on the label. This label means that your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB rays. While UVB rays can lead to sunburn and cancer, UVA rays lead to premature aging and even cancer.

3. Water resistance

Though many sunscreens claim to be water-resistant, they cannot be effective for a long time. Ideally, you should reapply your water-resistant sunscreen after two hours or after swimming and abundant sweating.

4. Skin type

Go for a sunscreen that suits your skin type. If you have oily skin, opt for lightweight lotions and gels which contain silica or isododecane. People with dry skin should opt for sunscreens that contain glycerine, lanolin, oils, and aloe vera.

5. Chemical or physical filters

Sunscreens contain either chemical filters or physical filters. Chemical filters work by absorbing the UV rays and breaking them down to make them less harmful. Physical filters sit on the skin and reflect light away from the skin. Examples of chemical filters include oxybenzone, octinoxate, and avobenzone, while mineral sunscreens contain from titanium dioxide or zinc oxide

Can you still get sunburnt on a cloudy day?

Clouds can block sunlight, but they cannot stop the harmful UVB rays from the sun. Studies show that 80% of the sun’s rays can pass through the clouds. You can end up with severe sunburns on cloudy days if you spend time outside without sun protection.