The Problem with Sunscreen is that People aren't Using it Enough

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New research reveals neglected sun protection practices. Leading dermatologist, Dr. Joshua Fox, comments on the long term damage of sunburn and the importance of daily use of sunscreen.

Most people know using sunscreen is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer. Yet research shows as many as 40 percent of people never use it--even when they go to the beach.

"This is a big part of why skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States," said New York dermatologist Joshua Fox, M.D., founder and medical director of Advanced Dermatology, P.C. and the Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery. "But the importance of regular sunscreen use, especially for beachgoers in the summertime, can't be stressed enough. What's perceived as an uncomfortable but harmless sun burn today could very well become the cause of skin cancer in the future."

Indeed, more than 100 million American each year experience some degree of sunburn from either not using sunscreen, or improperly applying it, said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Yet even the mildest cases can have a significant impact, Dr. Fox stressed.

"Skin cancer is an insidious disease because it appears years after the damage has been done," Dr. Fox added, "and I think that's part of the reason people have such a hard time understanding why they need to use sunscreen now. They think, 'Nothing is going to happen to me 20 years from now.' But the truth is that something can."

That "something," said the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), is an estimated over 1 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 132,000 new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Melanoma, the most serious form, is responsible for roughly 8,500 skin cancer deaths each year. In fact, incidents of melanoma have risen drastically over the past decade, the AAD reported, with increased, unprotected sun exposure largely to blame.

To stress the importance of continued sunscreen education both within and outside the medical community, New Age Skin Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization of which Dr. Fox is President, conducted, and recently presented to the American Academy of Dermatology, the results of a study that focused on the before and after sun-protection habits of melanoma patients.

Although most patients in the study admitted to being aware of the dangers of sun exposure and importance of sun protection, few practiced applying and reapplying sunscreen, avoiding direct sun exposure and wearing protective clothing until after they were diagnosed with skin cancer.

According to the study, patients' primary recommendation for preventing new skin cancer is an increase in education, with a focus on young people, explained New Age Skin Foundation Director Rao Saladi, M.D., adding that melanoma is often linked to too much sun exposure.

Complete results of the study, including participants' comments, will be published in Melanoma Research. This supports previous research on skin cancer that found fewer than one-third of U.S. youths practice effective skin protection.

Focused on youths 11 to 18 years old, the survey revealed alarming trends that include:

More than 68 percent not wearing sunglasses on sunny days.

More than 79 percent not wearing protective clothing, such as long pants.

More than 78 percent not avoiding direct sun exposure or staying in the shade.

More than 69 percent not properly applying, or reapplying, sunscreen.

More than 43 percent not using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more when at the beach or pool.

Despite skin cancer's devastating effects, young people--and even adults--seeking the perfect tan continue to spend time in the sun unprotected at an alarming rate. The reality is that there is no such thing as a healthy tan. Other risk factors for skin cancer include age and a family history of the disease. But long-term, unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays is the primary risk factor.

"Even on a cloudy day, or in a shaded area, you should apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 of greater 30 minutes before you leave the house," he added. "The sun's ultraviolet rays have great reflective powers and can burn your skin on a cloudy day as well as on a sunny one. The risk is year-round."

Remembering to reapply sunscreen after swimming or vigorous activity that makes you perspire, is important too, Dr. Fox said. Other daily sun safety rules should include:

Avoiding direct sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.

Covering the skin with loose, comfortable clothing made of tightly woven fabric.

Applying generous amounts of sunscreen and lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher.

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

Wearing sunglasses with lenses that have 99 to 100 percent UV absorption.

Avoiding other sources of UV light, like tanning beds and sun lamps that also damage the skin.

"When proper sun protective practices are followed consistently, skin cancer can largely be prevented," Dr. Fox said. "We need to change habits and mindsets to help people see the necessity--and urgency--of protecting themselves against skin cancer."

About Joshua L. Fox, M.D.:

Dr. Fox is a leading authority in the field of dermatology with an expertise in skin cancer, cosmetic surgery, and laser procedures. As an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, Dr. Fox has been an expert resource on dermatologic topics for numerous television networks including ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, including local broadcasting television spotlights, Telemundo, talk shows, radio stations, newspapers and magazines. Dr. Fox has served on the board of the National Rosacea Foundation and has done clinical trials in both medical and laser therapy in Rosacea. He has received multiple research and clinical awards including recognition from Top Doctors, Who's Who, Journal of Dermatologic Surgery and Oncology, Community Service Award from the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery, the prestigious Husic Award as well as certificates of recognition for service from multiple hospitals, civic, educational and community organizations. Dr. Fox has authored and presented papers of his research on lasers, cosmetic procedures, stretch marks, scars, skin cancer, bug bites, photosensitivity and various rashes.

As founder and director of Advanced Dermatology and The Center for Laser and Cosmetic Surgery, Dr. Fox and his associates have expanded the practice into one of the largest in dermatology, laser & cosmetic surgery with more lasers than any hospital or university center on the eastern coast. Dr. Fox is a graduate of the New York University Medical Center -Skin and Cancer and has been on the advisory board of the Psoriasis Foundation and National Rosacea Foundation among others. He has also been a fellow of many societies including the International Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, International Academy of Cosmetic Dermatology, and the Society for Investigative Dermatology. Dr. Fox is the founder of the AAD Melanoma/Skin Cancer Prevention Program in Queens, New York since 1987. Dr. Fox has been Chief of Dermatology of several major teaching hospitals including Mt. Sinai Hospital of Queens and Jamaica Medical Center and is currently on the staff of ten NY area hospitals. Dr. Fox and Advanced Dermatology the Center for Laser & Cosmetic Surgery have been used as a resource center educating dermatologists, laser surgeons, & cosmetic surgeons and others about lasers, cancer and cosmetic surgery and has one of the few Laser & Cosmetic Surgery Fellowship programs in the country. Dr. Fox is also the founder of the non-profit New Age Skin Research Foundation which participates and provides many research activities on unique issues of the skin and their causes or cures.


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