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Putting on sunblock

July 15, 2019 / Duncan Fisher
How a lot of us are getting it wrong

It’s beach season again! Time to break out the sandals and surfboards, and head for some fun!

It’s also time to reach for the sunblock. More and more people are aware these days of the association between sun exposure and the risk of skin cancer. (We wrote about that recently.) And more and more people are getting into the habit of covering up against those rays.

But did you know that conventional sunblock application doesn’t always give you the protection you want?

That’s the substance of a European study published just over a year ago.1 Volunteers were asked to put on their sunblock, the way they thought was correct. Then they were subjected to UV photography and image analysis, to assess actual body coverage.

The results? 17% of everyone’s back sides remained completely uncovered. For men it was more that 20%. On average, 11% of everyone’s body surface was completely unprotected. That's a lot.

When questioned about this, the study participants were quite surprised – or else they thought what they put on was ‘good enough’.

The problem is, skin cancers, particularly melanomas, can form absolutely anywhere. For that reason, coverage does need to be complete, to the surprise of a lot of people.

There are other mistakes we make, too.

  • Sunblock goes out of date. When you go to the beach, do you check the label?
  • Sunblock strength can vary a lot. Studies have shown that the ‘SPF’ rating should be at least 30.
  • Some sunblocks wash off easily. If you’re in the water, you should take care to re-apply often.
  • Think clouds protect you? Not against UV rays, they don’t. If your shirt is off, you still need your sunblock.
  • Think sunblock is enough? It isn’t. Bring your wide-brimmed hat, wear sleeves, and don’t forget your sunglasses.

Good sun protection is possible. But in these bright months, you and the people you love need to take it seriously!

1Int J Cosmet Sci. 2017 Oct;39(5):550-555. doi: 10.1111/ics.12413. Epub 2017 Aug 11.

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