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Sunscreen dos and don'ts: Common mistakes we make in the sun

For Americans, Memorial Day Weekend undoubtedly marks the commencement of summer.  After getting through the long, cold winter, warm weather is finally upon us, and that means more time spent outdoors and at the beach.

We all love these extra hours of sun, but it is important that we stay safe and properly protect our skin.  Many of us believe that spraying on some sunscreen is enough, but this is part of a list of common mistakes we should avoid. Over 2 million Americans are diagnosed each year with skin cancer, and many of these cases are linked to harmful sun exposure that could have been prevented.

Part of the issue is inherent in the sunscreen that is available in the United States.  Unfortunately, compared to European markets, sunscreens available to Americans are less effective and outdated.  

Within the past 10 to 15 years the FDA, which regulates ingredients found in sunscreen, has not added any new chemicals to the list of approved ingredients. According to experts, this means the U.S. is still in the dark ages when it comes to protecting our skin.  So what are Americans to do, short of importing European sunscreen?

Get smart: Here’s some advice about sunscreen and how to stay safe during the summer.

No sunscreen will protect you 100 percent from both UVA and UVB rays.  Many of us mistakenly buy a higher sun protection factor (SPF) thinking it means more protection from the sun’s harmful rays.  But high SPFs are not protecting you from UVA rays.  SPF actually refers to UVB rays, those which cause you to burn.  UVA rays are the ones that penetrate skin more deeply and are more likely to cause cancer and premature aging. Therefore, just because you are adequately protected from UVB rays does not mean you are being safe.

Try to use products that are lower in SPF (30-50) and labeled as broad spectrum to get the best coverage.  Hats and tight-weaved clothing will also do the trick.

Sunscreen Don’ts

• Don’t use spray sunscreens.  Although convenient, these sprays make it easy to miss spots or apply too little.  Furthermore, sprays can be easily inhaled and can contain toxic ingredients.

• Don’t use your makeup as sunscreen.  It’s great in theory, but most do not wear enough makeup nor do they reapply often enough for SPF to be effective.  Wear sunscreen under makeup for a better solution.

• Don’t assume because you are naturally tan you are in the clear.  Sunscreen should be worn by all skin types.

Sunscreen Dos

• Do reapply! This is the best way to ensure you stay covered and protected.  Sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours.

• Do bring hats and cover-ups to the beach for added protection.

• Do wear sunscreen on a cloudy day.  Not doing so is the easiest way to get burnt as clouds will only block 20 percent of UV rays.  

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and professor of urology at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel's Medical A-Team and the chief medical correspondent for am970 in New York City. Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter and Facebook.