Summer is the time of year most of us associate with sunshine and enjoying time in the great outdoors. Whether it’s attending a grandchild’s soccer game or taking a stroll at the park with friends, we know sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect our skin from the sun’s damaging rays. Surprisingly, winter can be just as risky when it comes to skin safety.
Everyday things that we don’t necessarily associate with sun damage like riding in a car with the sun shining through the windows or the reflection of the sun off snow and ice in the colder months can all lead to sunburn and long-term sun damage. While people of all ages should layer on sunscreen, it’s especially important for older adults to do so. Not only does aging skin tend to be more fragile, but sun sensitivity is a side effect of some medications commonly prescribed for seniors.
Tips for Using Sunscreen to Protect Your Skin
Here's what older adults should know about sunscreen use all year round, including winter:
- Remember that seniors need sunscreen: Some older adults mistakenly believe that the sun damage that results in skin cancer occurs only during childhood. Because they haven’t developed skin cancer already, they might not think it’s necessary now. This is not true says the Skin Cancer Foundation. The risk for developing or dying from skin cancer rises as you grow older. In fact, people over the age of 65 account for more than half of deaths related to skin cancer.
- Apply sunscreen every day: It’s a myth that sun damage takes time to develop. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can actually begin to cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes, even on a cloudy day. Apply sunscreen every day, even if you are only heading out for a quick walk to enjoy the snow or going for a short drive in the car.
- Choose a product with SPF 30 or higher: Sun protection factor, commonly referred to as SPF, determines how well a sunscreen can absorb and deflect the sun’s rays. Using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is the general recommendation from dermatologists. It will protect against 97% of the sun’s burning rays.
- Reapply sunscreen often: Another popular misconception is that if you want to stay outside all day without worrying about reapplying sunscreen, you can just choose a product with a higher SPF. The truth is, you’ll need to follow the directions on the bottle which likely say the sunscreen will need to be reapplied every two to six hours.
- Layer product generously: A thin layer of sunscreen just isn’t enough to fully protect you. A rule of thumb people often find helpful is to fill a shot glass full of sunscreen and layer it generously all over your skin.
- Protect against both UVA and UVB rays: When selecting a sunscreen, choose one that offers broad-spectrum protection. That means it will shield skin from both types of ultraviolet radiation—UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and account for 95% of rays. While UVB rays make up a smaller percentage of UV rays, but actually cause the most damage.
- Try different sunscreen formats: If you haven’t shopped for sunscreen lately, you might be surprised to find how many different formats there are, including sticks, creams, and sprays. Each one offers the same level of protection. By purchasing sunscreen in different forms, you may find it’s easier to protect yourself. Sunscreen sticks, for example, can be applied around your nose and ears. Sticks are also convenient to drop in your pocket or purse to take with you when leaving home. Sprays and creams cover larger areas of the body more quickly, like your chest, legs, and arms. Still need more tips? Check out these 15 hacks for how to apply sunscreen more easily!
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