Don’t Skimp on the Sunblock

Smart skin protection means applying sunblock early and liberally

It is a joyous occasion—pulling out the beach towels from the back of the linen closet, dusting off the big umbrella, blowing up the inflatable beach chair. But if you dig up a half-empty bottle of sunblock as you get ready for the return of summer, your beach supply list needs two more items: a brand new bottle of sunblock and a vow to do things differently this year.

Sunblock needs to be applied often and liberally to provide effective protection against skin damage caused by the sun. This damage puts people at risk for melanoma, one of the most deadly skin cancers. Using every last drop of sunblock by the end of the summer is a good habit to get into, especially since there is a chance that it will lose efficacy over a year’s time.
“When you consider that every medication has a shelf life, generally a year, then we should look at sunblock similarly,” says Howard A. Zaren, MD, Medical Director for the Nancy N. and J.C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion (LCRP). “We don’t know for certain which products lose effectiveness or to what degree because sufficient studies have not been done on these sunblocks. But intuitively, knowing that medications have a limited shelf life, we should be using and reapplying sunblock as much as we can and have none left over by the end of the summer.”
Using your sunblock generously is one of several basic recommendations from Dr. Zaren to protect your skin. Others include:

  • Buying sunblock with a sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 15. Lower SPF’s don’t provide full protection.
  • Using higher SPF’s, which provide slightly more protection, on areas where cancer was previously present or any sensitive area that you are concerned with, such as the nose or ears.
  • Choosing products that are labeled broad spectrum to ensure that the sunblock works against both types of sun radiation, UVA and UVB.
  • Applying sunblock 30 minutes before stepping outside. It can take up to a half-hour to absorb into the skin.
  • Reapplying sunblock at least every two hours. Dr. Zaren stresses that this is the maximum amount of time between applications, especially if you are swimming or sweating.

 “Children are especially at risk because they are the ones running around the beach and sweating,” Zaren says. “Dry them off and reapply the sunblock every time they come out of the water.”

Dr. Zaren notes that women are more fortunate than men in that many of their regular skin care products can now be found with an SPF of 15. Jackie Carson, Regional Oncology Coordinator for the LCRP, encourages women to seek these products out all year round.

“I have SPF protection every day,” Carson says. She notes that both men and women often forget that their lips also need protection.

“Use a lip balm that has an SPF of 15 as well,” she says.

For those people who want to get at least a little color in their skin, Carson suggests self-tanning lotions and spray tans. While far from an ideal solution, these products at least offer an alternative to sunbathing and the even more dangerous tanning beds. But Carson and Dr. Zaren hope that beachgoers in this region will be more focused on the health of their skin than on the darkness of its tan.

Hats and SPF-infused clothing are also smart choices to buy in addition to that new bottle of sunblock.

“Wear protective clothing and hats as much as possible,” Zaren says. “Protection of your children is really important, so be a good example to them. Use your sunblock without reservation. SPF 15 is all you need, but it must be applied rigorously.”

Mapping Moles On The Eastern Shore

Whether they are beachgoers or not, residents of coastal Georgia and South Carolina are among a rare group of people in the U.S. who can benefit from local access to MoleSafe technology. MoleSafe is a screening system designed to improve the ease and accuracy of diagnosing melanoma early by creating a digital record of a patient’s skin and their moles. The process, known as mole mapping, can even use this digital record on a microscopic level. The technology is offered in Savannah exclusively at St. Joseph’s/Candler’s Nancy N. and J. C. Lewis Cancer & Research Pavilion (LCRP).

Candidates for the mole-mapping procedure may be referred from the patient’s dermatologist or primary care physician. Self-referral is also possible for patients who feel they are at risk. The patient is screened by a melanographer, a nurse who has completed specialized training in the diagnostic and photographic technology used in the mole-mapping procedure. First, the entire body surface is photographed and mapped, then each mole that meets a certain criteria is imaged again with an extremely high-resolution camera. The patient returns one year later for the same procedure, allowing the melanographer to check for any changes in the patient’s skin or in the color or shape in their moles.

In the simplest analogy, MoleSafe is to skin cancer what mammography is to breast cancer.

Learn more at or call the LCRP at 912-819-5704.


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