Sunlit beach Summer’s here, the sun is shining bright and it’s time to get the facts right about skin care.

In spite of years of warnings issued by experts about the risks posed by exposure to UVA and UVB rays, a new survey on sunscreen shows that around 30% of adults, who are 18 and over, report not using sunscreen at all. 71% of those who do use sunscreen, don’t apply it until after they have already spent time in the sun.

Unfortunately, most people do not realize it only takes as little as 15 minutes for the sun’s UVA and UVB rays to start damaging the skin, increasing the risk for sunburn, skin cancer and premature skin aging.. Care should be taken especially on days when the UV index is high.

“Many associate a suntan with good health and vitality; however, 95 percent of all skin cancers are caused by the sun,” says Carol Drucker, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at M. D. Anderson. “While the sun does provide Vitamin D, just a small amount of sunlight – not a suntan – is needed to meet the body’s needs and regular use of sunscreen is a great way to limit that exposure.”

Below is M. D. Anderson’s response to several common questions about sunscreen application and protection:

  • Is there a significant difference in protection among SPF 15, 30 and 45?
    SPF (Sun Protection Factor) does not increase proportionately with the designated SPF number. For example, SPF 15 absorbs 93 percent of the sun’s burning rays, while SPF 30 absorbs 97 percent. The SPF number on sunscreens only reflects the product’s screening ability for UVB rays. At present, there is no FDA approved rating system that identifies UVA protection.
  • Can children use the same type of sunscreen as adults or should parents purchase sunscreen made especially for them?
    Children over six months can use the same sunscreen as adults. For infants younger than six months, just cover them up!
  • Are there specific instructions from health care professionals on how to apply sunscreen? If yes, what are they?
    Sunscreen should be applied to dry skin 15-30 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours. One ounce (enough to fill a shot glass) is considered the amount needed to properly cover the exposed areas of the body. Lips can get sunburned too, so it is important to apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  • Are all sunscreens safe to use on a daily basis?
    All sunscreens are safe to use on a daily basis. No evidence exists that suggests daily use of sunscreen is unsafe. People also have asked about sunscreens being too effective and contributing to vitamin D deficiency. This is unlikely because regular sunscreen use does not eliminate sun exposure. Taking a daily supplement of vitamin D can further alleviate concerns about this issue.
  • Are there certain environmental conditions that affect sunscreen efficacy?
    Because an SPF measurement is the most protection a person can receive under the best possible conditions, sunscreens often do not perform up to labeled SPF ratings. This is caused by a variety of factors, including the effects of wind, humidity, perspiration and facial movement, as well as uneven product application. Many people also wait too long to reapply.