WASHINGTON — As Americans head to the beach or pool this Memorial Day weekend, not enough of them will slather on some sunscreen, according to a new federal study.
“Memorial Day is here and people often say ‘I am going to the beach and I am going to get a base tan’,” says Dr. Howard Brooks, medical director of Skin Cosmetic Dermatology of Georgetown. “You never want to get a base tan. If your skin is tanned, you have damaged your skin already.”
That is why using sunscreen is essential. It not only prevents skin damage, but sunscreen can block harmful rays that cause skin cancer, including basal cell cancer, which is the most common cancer in the United States.
The problem is not enough people use it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention crunched the numbers from a 2013 survey of about 4,000 American adults. The results, published in the May issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, show only 14 percent of men and 30 percent of women regularly use sunscreen.
Brooks says women are more accustomed to applying moisturizers and creams to their face and body, which might account for why women use sunblock more than men. But Brooks says usage rates among women isn’t high enough.
“That’s low, a very low number,” says Brooks, who says he tells every patient — no matter their age, race or ethnicity — to wear sunscreen every day.
He encourages them to apply a sunscreen that is broad-spectrum and is SPF 30 or higher. It’s also a good idea this time of year — at the start of beach and pool season — to check the expiration dates on any sunscreen before you use it.
Some people questioned in the CDC survey said they shy away from sunscreens because they are worried about the chemicals they may contain. But the authors of the study say sunscreens available in the United States are safe and effective.
However the Environmental Working Group, a private advocacy organization, takes issue with that claim in its 2015 sunscreen guide, which claims many American sunscreens offer subpar protection.
European sunscreens, for example, must meet higher standards for UVA protection than American products.
But Brooks says any American sunblock will do the job if it is used correctly.
“We have great tools here in the United States. We know the sunscreen works. It’s just a matter of getting the sunscreen on and reapplying,” he says.
There is no magic amount, just apply liberally and cover exposed areas of the face and body. Apply sunscreen half an hour before going outdoors, and reapply every two hours — more often if you are sweating heavily, and after every swim.
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