Protected fun in the sun

Health

New research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology has highlighted mistakes many people make when applying suncream that could compromise their protection from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, which could increase their risk of skin cancer. This could be particularly pertinent for travellers visiting hot and sunny countries.

Researchers set up free sunscreen dispensers at the Minnesota State Fair in the US and observed 2,187 people using them over the course of 93 hours. They found that just one-third of people applied sunscreen to all exposed skin, while only 38 per cent were wearing sun-protective clothing, hats or sunglasses. They also found that the free sunscreen dispensers were used far less on cloudy days.

“These results highlight some of the ways people use sunscreen incorrectly,” commented board-certified dermatologist Dr Ingrid Polcari, one of the study authors. “To get the best possible sun protection, it’s important to wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and pants, and to apply sunscreen to all exposed skin, not just your face and arms.”

Dr Polcari also said that everybody should apply sunscreen every time they go outside as even on cloudy days up to 80 per cent of the sun’s harmful UV rays can reach skin.

Additional observations were that more women than men used the free sunscreen dispensers; while 51 per cent of the fair attendees were women, they accounted for 57 per cent of the sunscreen users.

Dr Darrell S. Rigel, a clinical professor in the Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology at New York University, advises travellers to: choose a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher; look for the words ‘broad spectrum’, which means the sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays (which cause sunburn); look for the words ‘water resistant’; and, for sensitive skin, choose a sunscreen with the active ingredients zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.