Not enough sunscreen

by Kelly Corbett
Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Melanoma Monday has passed, but the remainder of May is dedicated to skin cancer awareness.

“Nobody is putting on enough sunscreen,” said Dr. Rosalyn George of Wilmington Dermatology Center. “Skin cancer is pretty much an epidemic in this country.”

An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during his or her lifetime, the American Academy of Dermatology reports.

George said melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, has been increasing in young women, likely due to tanning beds, and older men, likely due to a lifetime of sun exposure.

“It affects everybody,” she said. “We live in a beach town. … One of the biggest mistakes I see is people will get out of their car and put their sunscreen on. You really have to have that sunscreen on 20 minutes before you’re out in the sun.”

In the office daily, George said doctors see between 75 to 100 people, ranging from 20 to 90 years old, and see about 30 to 40 spots that require a biopsy.

If someone has risk factors, George recommends an annual visit to the dermatologist.

“And just like breast cancer checks, we tell people to check their skin,” she said.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends water--resistant broad-spectrum sunscreen protection to fight against both UVA and UVB rays, with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more.

“People are really good about putting it on one time,” George said.

Sunscreen should be reapplied, and if someone is in the water, the sunscreen only works for about an hour and a half, she said. The guideline is to use an ounce of sunscreen, the amount contained in an average-sized shot glass, on the neck and body, and a nickel-size amount on the face alone. 

In June 2011, the Food and Drug Administration announced changes to sunscreen labels to help better inform consumers about the products they are buying, effective for most manufacturers this summer. Sunscreens with an SPF of two to 14 will have warning labels. And sunscreens that protect against both UVB and UVA radiation will be labeled as broad spectrum.

The center educates patients through monthly newsletters, and is also giving free skin checks to Wrightsville Beach lifeguards for the second year in a row.

Dave Baker, Wrightsville Beach Ocean Rescue director, said the check would be conducted on May 21 while the 31 full-time seasonal lifeguards are training.

“Look at the environment that we work in,” he said. “We definitely need to think about sun safety for ourselves and get checked. Really, it’s a concern for ocean rescue personnel.”

During training, Baker said he gives lifeguards long-sleeved shirts to wear and also discusses sunscreen.

“We’re very excited that the season is coming up, but we hope that everyone will be safe,” he said.

Other protective measures, such as avoiding the midday sun, wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses and bringing an umbrella for shade can help prevent overexposure to the sun and skin cancer.

“Those things are just as important as wearing sunscreen,” George said. “Avoid tanning beds at all costs. You’re basically paying someone to give you cancer.”

Wilmington Plastic Surgery, which also conducts skin checks, also advises against using tanning beds.

Practice administrator Guy Williams said in honor of skin cancer awareness month, the facility is offering a sunscreen swap where customers can swap non-medical sunscreens for medical sunscreens with a 25 percent product discount.

“We do see a lot of sun damage and skin cancer issues,” Williams said. “Wilmington is a pretty active community. … Prevention is the key to it. We tell everybody to wear sunscreen. … Most of the medical grade sunscreens go a lot further. Non-medical sunscreens have a lot of water content in them.”

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