With Rates of Deadliest Skin Cancer on the Rise, What to Know About Sun Protection

WASHINGTON — The rate of diagnosis for the deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma, doubled in the U.S. between 1982 and 2011.

More than 9,000 Americans die of melanoma each year, and the annual cost for treating it has grown faster than the annual treatment costs for all other cancers combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The CDC says the best ways to prevent skin cancer are to seek shade when outdoors and wear hats, sunglasses and other protective clothing.

Of course, shade isn’t always available, and it’s not exactly practical to wear long sleeves and hats in the pool, for instance. That leaves one option — sunscreen.

But a recent 2,000-person survey by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in Great Britain indicates that sunscreen labels and best practices are poorly understood by many.

Only 8 percent knew that the SPF rating on the product label refers to protection from UVB rays only – and does not also include protection from harmful UVA rays.

Less than half of those surveyed (44 percent) always or often used sunscreen when out in the sun and only 13 percent said they reapplied sunscreen every two hours when out in the sun, which is recommended.

The CDC agrees that misinformation is part of the problem, saying that communities and policy makers could play a major role in skin cancer prevention efforts by encouraging employers, childcare centers, schools, and colleges to educate employees and students about sun safety and skin protection.

They also suggest increasing shade at playgrounds, public pools, and other public spaces; promoting sun protection in recreational areas, including the use or purchase of hats, sunscreen, and sunglasses; and restricting the availability and use of indoor tanning by minors.

On June 25, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh announced a joint partnership with the Melanoma Foundation of New England (MFNE), Make Big Change (MBC) and the Boston Parks and Recreation Department to provide free sunscreen dispensers in public parks in the city.

A similar program is offered in Miami Beach, Florida.

But even if sunscreen education and availability increases, there’s still the concern that some products aren’t up to snuff.

This year’s Consumer Reports review of sunblocks found that out of 34 products, almost a third of them didn’t meet the SPF claim on their labels.

The review also rated the best products.

One sunscreen scored 100 percent on the Consumer Reports test — La Roche-Posay Anthelios 60 Melt-in Sunscreen Milk (SPF 60).

SPF, by the way, stands for Sun Protection Factor. It’s a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent sun rays from damaging the skin. Slathering on SPF 20, for example, theoretically prevents your skin from turning red for about 20 times longer than if your skin were unprotected.

Other products on the Consumer Reports “recommended list” were:

  • Vichy Capital Soleil 50 Lightweight Foaming Lotion (SPF 50)
  • Coppertone Water Babies (SPF 50)
  • Equate Ultra Protection (SPF 50)
  • No-Ad Sport (SPF 50)
  • Ocean Potion Protect & Nourish (SPF 30)
  • Aveeno Protect+Hydrate (SPF 30)
  • Up & Up Ultra Sheer (SPF 30)
  • Banana Boat SunComfort Continuous Spray (SPF 50+)
  • L’Oreal Quick Dry Sheer Finish, spray (SPF 50+)
  • Coppertone Sport High Performance AccuSpray (SPF 30)
  • Equate Sport Continuous Spray (SPF 30)
  • Coppertone UltraGuard (SPF 70+)
  • Neutrogena Beach Defense Water + Sun Protection (SPF 70)
  • Caribbean Breeze Continuous Tropical Mist, spray (SPF 70)

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