Safe sun: Slip, slap, slop it on

As threats to our protective atmosphere increase, don't let the sun ruin your fun

provided by Stanford University Medical Center

 sing a sunscreen during the hot summer months is a simple way to protect against skin cancer. According to a Stanford Medical Center dermatologist, selecting the proper product doesn't have to be confusing despite all the different SPF numbers on the labels and an almost dizzying array of ingredients.

"Each of the products is a little bit different, so it might take a bit of experimentation to find the product that is best for you. But if you follow instructions, using sunscreen correctly is easy," says Dr. Susan Swetter, assistant professor of dermatology and director of Stanford's Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic. Here are some points Swetter suggests you keep in mind:


  •  Apply sunscreen thoroughly and evenly. The average adult needs about two tablespoons no less spread evenly over the entire body. Remember that light summer clothing, such as a T-shirt, generally provides only limited protection.
  • Don't agonize over the SPF (sun protection factor) number. Keep it simple: while light-skinned people are more susceptible to skin cancer, all races will benefit from following the same sun protection guidelines. Most people should use an SPF of 15 if their skin is normal, or an SPF of 30 if they are taking photosensitizing medications (e.g., certain blood pressure pills) or suffering from a disease (e.g., lupus) that makes their skin unusually susceptible to burns. SPF numbers lower than 15 probably won't offer enough protection, while those higher than 30 may not offer any additional benefits.
    (The SPF rating tells you how long the product is expected to protect your skin from burning. For example, an SPF 5 sunscreen should protect your skin from developing redness five times longer than no sunscreen at all, while an SPF 15 product should protect you 15 times longer than no sunscreen. However, the reality is that the thorough and frequent application of the sunscreen is as important as the SPF rating.)
  • Buy a waterproof sunscreen. It won't be washed off quickly by your own sweat, and so is useful even if you're not going swimming.
    Check the label to make sure your sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB light (i.e., "broad-spectrum"), since sunlight contains both types of ultraviolet rays.

Safe sun: children need more than sunscreen

arents might think sunscreen alone provides enough protec- tion for their children, but they're wrong, according to the first large scale study of U.S. children and sun protection. Researchers from Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, N.H., studied 871 children and found only 20 percent wore shirts and 3 percent wore hats, items experts highly recommend to prevent skin cancer. "It is helpful to remind families to protect the regions most frequently omitted from protection ... girls legs and boys and girls faces," the researchers state. They recommend a program developed in Australia that encourages people to "slip" on a shirt, "slop" on sunscreen and "slap" on a hat.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a free brochure on sun safety for children. Readers, viewers or listeners can obtain a brochure by sending a #10 self addressed, stamped envelope to: American Academy of Pediatrics, Dept. C - Fun in the Sun, PO Box 927, Elk Grove Village, IL 60009-0927.

This is a highlight of a study appearing on the June PEDIATRICS electronic pages, the Internet extension of Pediatrics, the peer-reviewed, scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The complete study is also available on PEDIATRICS electronic pages at

  • Be alert for sunscreen allergies, which may show up as rashes. If you have a skin reaction, switch to a brand with different ingredients. Generally, sunblocks with titanium dioxide are less likely to cause allergic skin reactions. Most sunblocks work by absorbing light, but the "physical" sunblocks, such as titanium dioxide, work by reflecting and scattering the sun's rays. Also, the fragrance or preservatives in a sunscreen can cause irritation, so simply changing brands (regardless of active ingredients) can sometimes be effective.
  • If you are extremely sensitive to sunlight, use zinc oxide or an equivalent "sunblock" that keeps out all light. "You'll have to live with the product's white pasty look unless you try one of the new zinc sunblocks that come in fluorescent colors," Swetter notes.

"More than a million people in the United States each year are diagnosed with skin cancer, including more than 40,000 who contract potentially deadly melanomas," says Swetter. While many of the affected individuals are middle-aged or older, people of all ages should protect against excessive sun exposure, because cancer often strikes many years after a sunburn," she says.