Summer Sun, Skin Cancer and Protection

This is the second in our series of installments leading up to Father’s Day focusing on health issues for men.

Alright, summer is upon us. In fact, here, in Florida, summer is here for most of the year. And, you know what that means – beaches and sun and a beautiful tan. But exposure to the sun also means exposure to dangerous UV rays that can cause skin cancer. Not so good.

UVB rays are the chief cause of skin cancer, while UVA rays are responsible for aging effects on the skin such as sagging and wrinkling. But UVA rays also exacerbate the effects of UVB rays and may even be more responsible for skin cancer than was first thought. So, you need protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

Let’s clear up a few misconceptions about protection from the sun.

First misconception: Getting a base tan is good protection. Not so. Exposure to the sun causes your body to produce melanin, a skin pigment, which darkens your skin. But the melanin only gives you SPF 3 or 4 protection. Experts agree that an SPF of 30 or greater is necessary for good protection.

There is also a common misbelieve that dark skinned people enjoy greater protection from the sun. The truth is, just as a tan won’t protect you, neither will naturally dark skin. Dark skinned individuals can also be subject to more aggressive cancers, which are often detected later and can be harder to treat.

Another common misbelieve is that you only get skin cancer on exposed skin. Also not true. You can develop skin cancer anywhere on your body, even on the soles of your feet, between your fingers and toes and under your finger nails.


For those venturing out onto the beaches this summer sunscreen is important. A minimum SPF of 15 recommended. 30 is better and 50 is better still. SPF 15 gives 93% protection, while SPF 50 will block 98% of the UV rays. Doesn’t sound like a big difference, 93% to 98%, but the difference is very important for people with sensitive skin or a family history of skin cancer.

Sunscreen must be used correctly for it to be effective. Apply a full ounce with each application, about a shot glass full, and apply it 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Then, re-apply it every 2 hours, more often if you are swimming or sweating.


Of course, avoiding exposure to the sun altogether is the best protection. Stay in the shade as much as possible. If you aren’t swimming, or don’t need to be exposed, don’t expose yourself. Wear protective clothing. Wear a hat and wear sunglasses.