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A recent survey from the Skin Cancer Foundation showed that 34 percent of women never use sunscreen. And according to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this year, adults are also skipping super-simple strategies, such as wearing sun-protective clothing or choosing the shade instead of a sunny spot. Even the number of sunburns is on the rise. Why the who-cares attitude? "People don't want to let concerns about sun exposure interfere with their outdoor activities," says Allan C. Halpern, MD, chief of dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
Protection suggestion: Change your attitude -- think of sunscreen as something that allows you to have fun in the sun safely. Find products that mesh with your lifestyle. Besides sunscreen, look for innovations like SPF 15 body wash from By142 ($34, by142.com). Buy a beach umbrella to create your own shade. Also consider using a laundry additive like SunGuard ($1.99, sunguardsunprotection.com), which adds UPF 30 (ultraviolet protection factor) to your clothing, including your favorite bikini or cover-up (an untreated plain white tee has a weeny UPF 7).
Why? Because Earth's natural "sunscreen" has thinned. NASA scientists have discovered a reduction of global aerosols -- the blanket of particles (aka air pollution) that circle the earth and help block UV rays -- according to a 2007 study published in the journal Science. The decline has been steady since 1991. The skimpier the "blanket" gets, the warmer Earth becomes; some scientists speculate that it's a factor in global warming. The thinning may also hurt your skin by allowing more sunlight to penetrate. "Less pollution means more crystal-clear days -- and more incidental sun exposure," points out Darrell Rigel, MD, a clinical professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.
Protection suggestion: Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen every single day, throughout winter, spring, summer, and fall, and be sure to reapply if you're outside longer than an hour, no matter what you're doing.
Most sunscreen brands are offering sky-high SPFs this year -- Neutrogena, Hawaiian Tropic, Aveeno, and Banana Boat, to name a few, boast SPF 70, SPF 80 or SPF 85. "There are new combinations of chemical sunscreens and finer, more concentrated versions of organic sunblocks such as zinc oxide that make it possible to get those high numbers without a pasty finish," says Sandra Read, MD, a clinical instructor in the department of dermatology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Keep in mind that, although a high SPF is great because it gives you more protection, its benefits don't last any longer than those of a lower SPF -- you still need to reapply it.
Protection suggestion: Make sure that your sunscreen offers broad-spectrum coverage, meaning it thwarts UVA and UVB rays (SPF measures only UVB protection). And reapply every two hours.4. Lube up before hitting the road.
Driving may put you at an increased risk for skin cancer. Skeptics will be swayed by this little fact: People had more cancers on the left side of their bodies, and driving may be the reason, according to a 2007 study from Saint Louis University. What's more, they were often "slow-growing" skin cancers -- a clue that regular, long-term, cumulative sun exposure (which you'd get from daily driving) may be the cause. Although glass blocks UVB rays, it doesn't stop UVA. New cars are typically equipped with windshields that do block some UVA rays, but the side windows often still don't offer this protection.
Protection suggestion: Even if you applied sunscreen in the morning, reapply before you drive to do errands midday or head home. To make it easy to remember, stow a sample-size bottle of sunscreen in your car's cup holder or glove compartment, suggests New York City dermatologist Francesca Fusco, MD. We also like single-serve wipes like MDSkincare SPF 30 Sunscreen Packettes ($42 for 60 individual packets, sephora.com), or Shady Day Daily SPF 30 wipes ($14 for a pack of 15, ulta.com).
There was a time when UPF clothes were better suited for a park ranger than a beach babe (think baggy T-shirts, khaki shorts, goofy hats). But new designs are a yes for the beach, a barbecue, or shopping.
Protection suggestion: Sport a sexy tank dress or snug-fitting surfer tee from athleta.com, a glam ribbon crusher available at alexandme.com, or a feminine, hippie-print hat from cabanalife.com.
Something we'd never heard before: Lipstick and gloss may increase your risk of lip cancer. "The metallic particles in some frosted lipsticks and the shiny finish from lip gloss act like a mirror and can reflect sunlight onto lips," explains Dr. Halpern. Typically, cancers occur on the vermillion, the skin-toned ridge that outlines your mouth.
Protection suggestion: Smooth your face sunscreen onto that bare edge, or swipe a plain SPF lip balm such as Kiehl's Lip Balm #1 SPF 15 ($8.50, kiehls.com) over it before applying lipstick or gloss.
Sure, hair is made of nonliving cells that technically don't need sun protection, but the skin under your hair may be getting more exposure than you think. "Pre-cancers along the hairline are common, and they happen because we skip sunscreen along the roots," says Dr. Fusco.
Protect yourself: Rub sunscreen onto your part, or try a light spray made for the body and scalp, such as Banana Boat Quik Dri Sport Body & Scalp SPF 30 ($8.99, drugstores), a broad-spectrum sunscreen that sprays on and dries instantly on your skin or hair.
UPDATE: The American Academy of Dermatology wants you to know about the dangers of indoor tanning. Research shows an increase in melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer, in females 15-29 years old, who make up 70 percent of indoor tanners. UV radiation from the sun and artificial sources like tanning beds is a known carcinogen, as declared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Approximately one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, yet on a given day, more than one million Americans use indoor tanning salons. The AAD wants to reduce the incidence and mortality from skin cancer and has launched public service advertisements to send this important message about your health.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, June 2008.