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Fair-Skinned Folks Need More Than Sunscreen to Stave Off Cancer Risks, Experts Warn


If you have fair skin, you’re probably used to putting on sunscreen before you go outside in the hot sun. But recent research shows that sunscreen alone is not enough to protect you, no matter how much of it you use.

The June 2018 study published in JAMA Dermatology analyzed more than 28,500 responses from the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. The participants were asked about all the methods they used to protect their skin from the sun, including wearing sunscreen, wearing a hat or visor, wearing long sleeves or pants, and finding shade. Of the 16,000 participants who identified as fair-skinned or sun-sensitive, 62 percent who said they used sunscreen without any additional protective measures had the highest incidence of sunburn.

Researchers called this result “the most surprising and counterintuitive” of all the study’s findings in an interview with Reuters.

In light of the new research, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) says that folks with fair skin should use multiple protection methods in order to keep the risk of skin cancer at bay. Considering nearly 100,000 Americans are expected to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma — the most dangerous type of skin cancer — this year, the advice is worth heeding as soon as possible.

As you may recall, new sun protection recommendations were extended to fair-skinned children just four months ago: The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended that these kids receive skin-cancer prevention guidance beginning at the age of six months — a big change from earlier recommendations that they should begin learning at age 10. Evidence suggests that kids are more likely to take the guidelines seriously if they begin at a super-young age.

Although this word of caution is specifically geared toward people with fair skin, it’s important for all people to take measures to protect themselves from the harsh rays of the sun. After all, people of all skin tones have a certain risk of getting skin cancer. No matter how light or dark your skin is, it’s always a good idea to brush up on the latest skin cancer prevention guidelines, straight from the Skin Cancer Foundation.

Sun Protection Tips

  • Find the shade, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Do not get a sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning and UV-tanning beds at all costs.
  • When you go outside, cover yourself up with clothing, and don’t forget to wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Be sure to use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day you go outside. For extended time outdoors, you should use a water-resistant and broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • A half hour before you go outside, apply 1 oz. (2 Tbsp.) of sunscreen to your entire body. Reapply that amount of sunscreen every two hours or immediately after any swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Make sure you keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies who are older than six months.
  • Do a thorough self-examination of your skin head-to-toe every single month.
  • See your physician for a professional skin exam every year.

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