Memorial Day means time in the sun - here's how to stay safe - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Memorial Day means time in the sun - here's how to stay safe

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With the Memorial Day holiday close at hand, many of us will spend time outside, and be exposed to the sun.

But skin cancer, described by the American Cancer Society as the most common cancer in America, is an increasing risk the more time spent under the sun.

That doesn’t mean you have stay indoors. “You can enjoy being outside.  Just be smart about it,” says Deanna Brown, M.D., dermatologist with Susong Dermatology and on staff at CHI Memorial. Dr. Brown says there is no such thing as a ‘healthy’ tan. “The color of the skin you were born with is the best color for you – it’s the best shade you can be.” 

To help you protect yourself, Brown shares sun safety techniques we can all use to reduce our risk of getting skin cancer:

How much sunscreen should I use?
Most people use less than half of the amount of sunscreen they actually need. Applying the correct amount will protect you from burns as well as sun damage like wrinkles and brown spots as you age.  Every time you put sunscreen on, you should use:

  • 1 tablespoon for your face
  • 1 ounce (about the size of the palm of your hand) to cover the rest of your body 

Is the sunscreen spray as good as the lotion?
Sticks, lotions or creams are best.  It’s harder to measure the amount of spray you’ve applied and know when you get to the point where you have enough. The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again. The spray is often easier to use with children. You just need to reapply regularly to make sure they are adequately protected. 
What should I look for when buying sunscreen?
You should look at three things when buying sunscreen:

  1. Broad-spectrum protection – This indicates the sunscreen protects against UVA and UVB rays.
  2. Sun Protection Factor (SPF) – I recommended sunscreen with an SPF between 30 and 50. This range will filter out 97-98 percent of UV rays.  Anything higher than 50 SPF doesn’t offer much more protection.
  3. Water resistance – Sunscreen is not waterproof, just water resistant.  It will be labeled as either 40 or 80 minute.  The terms “sweat-proof”, “waterproof” & "sunblock" are no longer allowed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). 

When should I put on sunscreen?
The first application should be 15 minutes before going outside.  That means put it on before you leave the house.  You need to reapply every two hours (one tablespoon for your face and one ounce for the rest of your body), or sooner if you are swimming or sweating (check water resistant time listed on bottle).
I have sunscreen leftover from last year.  Is it safe to use?
A bottle of sunscreen will go quickly when you use the correct amounts and reapply as recommended.  If you do have a bottle you haven’t used in a while, follow these guidelines from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD):

  • The FDA requires all sunscreens retain their original strength for at least three years.
  • Some sunscreens include an expiration date. If the expiration date has passed, throw out the sunscreen.
  • If you buy a sunscreen that does not have an expiration date, write the date you bought the sunscreen on the bottle. That way, you’ll know when to throw it out.
  • You also can look for visible signs the sunscreen may no longer be good.  Any obvious changes in the color or consistency of the product mean it’s time to purchase a new bottle.

What are other ways to protect my skin besides using sunscreen regularly?
We live in a beautiful area, full of outdoor activities.  The goal is limit as much UV exposure as possible while still enjoying being outside, by:

  • Stay in the shade when possible.
  • Limit your time outside between 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest.  Plan your exercise or outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon if possible.
  • Use UV protective clothing.  Several companies now make a variety of lightweight clothing, swim wear and accessories that protect against UV exposure, even when it’s wet.
  • Wear a broad-rim hat, with at least a two to three-inch brim.  The broad-rim will help protect your ears, face, scalp and neck.  Ball caps do not protect your ears or neck – two common places skin cancer is found.
  • Sunglasses offer UV protection too, protecting the eyes and the delicate skin around them.  The ACS recommends sunglasses that block 99 to 100 percent of UV rays. Look for labels that say “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements”.
  • Remember your lips.  Skin cancer also can form on the lips so remember to apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF 30 or higher.

The AAD estimates one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Melanoma cases in the US doubled from 1982 to 2011.  Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in females age 15-29, according to the ACS. 

Even if you follow all the precautions to reduce your risk of skin cancer, you should still check your skin regularly.  Dr. Brown recommends doing a skin check at the same time every month so it’s easy to remember (i.e.: first day of every month).  

Look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry – doesn’t look the same on both sides
  • Border – irregular, scalloped
  • Color – dark black or multicolor
  • Diameter – larger than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser)
  • Evolving – change in size and/or color

To learn more about melanoma, visit

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