As the number of vaccinated American seniors rises, and the country continues to open up, more of us will be getting out of our houses and back outdoors, ready to soak up the summer sun, and start living life to its fullest again. But before you head out on that hike, or kayak trip, remember the importance of protecting your skin this summer. And, remembering the sunscreen is one smart way to do that.
The facts about skin health
According to the CDC, “less than half of older adults protect their skin from the sun when outside for an hour or more on a warm, sunny day. This may raise their risk of getting skin cancer.”
Dangers from the sun’s rays and their effect on our skin is a real and growing issue. In all, some 5 million Americans will be treated for skin cancer this year, with most of them being 65 or older. The CDC found that since 2016, the rate of new melanoma cases is highest among this group, with those between 80 and 84 years-old hardest hit.
So, when we learn that just 18% of older adults and 15% of sun-sensitive older adults admit to not using any kind of sun protection regularly, something has to change. Older adults are living longer, the need to promote and understand life-long skin health is more critical than ever.
Importance of sunscreen for seniors
Simply put, ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, or even a tanning bed are the top causes of skin cancer. Prolonged and unprotected exposure can lead to sunburn, damage to your eyes, and premature skin aging. Taking your skin health seriously and understanding how to protect yourself daily will help lower your chances of getting skin cancer, and frankly make for a much more comfortable summer.
Key CDC findings
- Only about 15% of older adults and 8% of sun-sensitive older adults regularly used all five kinds of sun protection.
- The most popular kinds of sun protection among older men were wearing clothing to the ankles, such as pants (44%) and staying in the shade (37%).
- The most popular kinds of sun protection among older women were staying in the shade (47%) and using sunscreen (32%).
- Nearly 18% of older adults and 15% of sun-sensitive older adults said they didn’t use any kind of sun protection regularly.
- More than one in ten older adults had been sunburned in the past year, and sunburn was nearly twice as high among sun-sensitive older adults.
- Although sunburn was most often reported among non-Hispanic White older adults, sunburn was reported among all racial and ethnic groups in the study, including Black and Hispanic older adults.
CDC researchers found that if older adults in the United States did five simple things, they would dramatically reduce their risk of cancer and skin damage.
- Stay in the shade.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat.
- Wear clothing to the ankles.
- Wear a long-sleeved shirt.
- Use sunscreen.
The last tip, using sunscreen, may just be the most important of the five, but the most underutilized. Choosing The Right Sunscreen
When choosing sunscreen be sure to read the label before you buy and remember that no sunscreen protects you completely. The U.S Food and Drug Administration does require that all labels follow specific guidelines to allow you to know what they can do or not do.
Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. The SPF measures the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. The higher the SPF the more protection, but the higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes. The FDA requires any sunscreen with an SPF below 15 to carry a warning that it only protects against sunburn, not skin cancer or skin aging.
“Water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.” If a product’s front label says it is water resistant, it must specify whether it lasts for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating. The FDA recommends you reapply sunscreen every two hours and even more often if you are swimming or sweating. Sunscreen will rub off when you towel yourself dry, so you will need to put more on.
Be sure you check the expiration date before using a sunscreen. While many sunscreens are good for at least two to three years, containers that have been exposed to heat for long periods, may not work as well.
While sunscreen can come in many different forms, such as sticks, sprays, gels, lotions and creams, CDC research finds none are overwhelmingly more effective than another, but they can make application easier. Sticks are good for our faces, and can easily slip into your pocket. Sprays and creams can cover a larger area like our fronts, legs, arms and backs. Gels tend to stick and last longer where we sweat, such as our hair, our hairlines and scalp.
How we apply sunscreen is as equally important as having it. The best rule of thumb is to apply any form of protection about 15 minutes before you go out into the sun. This will allow the sunscreen time to soak into your skin, and provide the maximum benefit.
Make sure you spend the time to really cover yourself, and with enough sunscreen. According to the FDA, the average adult or child needs at least one ounce of sunscreen to evenly cover themselves from head to toe.