Healthy Fall Skin: SPF 30 is the Magic Number


Temperatures are starting to dip, but the change of season doesn’t mean it’s time to stow away the SPF 30, your top defense against the sun’s rays.

Are you one of the 58 percent of adult Americans who chooses not to wear sunscreen? And you may be even less likely to apply sunscreen during the fall and winter months. 

But James Harris, MD, of the Renown Institute for Cancer, explains that exposure to the sun happens when we least expect it, like during our daily commute. The ultraviolet A (UVA) rays can penetrate the windows of your car, office or home and get deep into the dermis, the thickest layer of our skin.

So what’s the solution to preventing skin damage — or even worse, skin cancer — in the colder months?

Apply, then re-apply

There are a million sunscreens out there, so find a sunscreen that feels good on your skin. There are hydrating formulas that are great for the drier months. Dr. Harris advises you use a broad spectrum UVA and UVB lotion with a mix of ingredients to ensure you are fully protected.

Still not sure which sunscreen to use? Look for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation next time you’re out shopping for your sun protection products.

A good rule of thumb is to use about one ounce (a shot glass full) and re-apply every two hours, or more often if sweating. Also, make sure to:

  • Follow directions and shake the bottle before using.
  • Make sure all skin is covered (including neck, ears and lips).
  • For people with thin or thinning hair, apply to the scalp as well.
  • Carry your favorite bottle of sunscreen with you at all times.

Skiers, snowboarders, snowshoers, sledders, snow shovelers and winter enthusiasts take note: According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the higher your elevation, the greater your exposure to harmful UV rays. Plus, snow reflects and intensifies sunlight. In fact, the reflection off water or snow increases sun concentration by 40 percent. When spending time out the snow, Dr. Harris recommends a sport sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

Here’s the breakdown on UV blockage and the level of protection it offers your skin:

SPF  15:                 93 percent blockage

SPF  30:                 97 percent blockage

SPF  50                  98 percent blockage

SPF  100                99 percent blockage

Are you at risk?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, only 9 percent of adult Americans use sunscreen regularly. This statistic attributes to the “why” when we hear that one in five Americans will have some form of skin cancer during their lifetime. 

Self-exams are the best way to identify melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Here is a step-by-step guide to your self-exam:

  1. Examine your skin head-to-toe once a month, looking for any suspicious lesions.
  2. Know what you’re looking for. As a general rule, to spot either melanomas or non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to grow or change significantly in any other way. 
  3. Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal is an alarm signal.

Also helpful? Knowing the ABCDE’s of skin cancer.

ABCDE’s of Skin Cancer

A – Asymmetry. If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match.

B – Border. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.

C – Color. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, blue or some other color.

D – Diameter. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the size of the eraser on your pencil (1/4 inch or 6 mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.

E – Evolving.  Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.

If you have any questions about skin cancer prevention, always consult your doctor.