Sunscreen isn’t just for the beach, and how much you should wear

Thank you Air Force Maj. Christopher Bunt for sharing a handy visual to know how much sunscreen we should slap on this summer: about a shot glass’ worth.

That’s about one to 1½ ounces, which seems like a lot to apply every two hours or so, but given that Bermuda shorts, sundresses and warm-weather PT gear don’t cover a lot of skin, it’s a necessary  summer accessory, say experts at the National Cancer Institute.

In a Defense Department story on sunscreen, Bunt, with the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md., explains why liberally applying a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays – known as a broad spectrum product — is important.

“The reason we care about getting that broad coverage is that UVB causes visible sunburn and UVA causes the invisible underlying skin damage which can lead ultimately to cancer,” Bunt said.

This summer, consumers will find a number of label changes on sunscreen bottles: The term “broad spectrum” will be used to describe those that block UVA and UVB rays; and SPF numbers no longer will exceed “50-plus.”

Gone also are the terms “sunblock,” “waterproof” and “sweatproof,” swapped out for guidelines on how long a person can expect protection while swimming or sweating without needing to reapply (usually 40 to 80 minutes).

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 700,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.  Those numbers could decline if Americans followed a lesson from Down Under – for more than 30 years, Australia, which has the highest incidence of skin cancer incidence rates in the world, has promoted sunburn protection through the ever-popular “Slip, Slop, Slap,” campaign.

It appears to be working. A recent published study in the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Public Health found that of 6,000 adults surveyed, the proportion of those wanting a tan fell from 39 percent in 2003 to 27 percent in 2010.

Those reporting having recently gotten a sunburn dropped by 5 percent during the same time frame.

So, as Memorial Day approaches, slip on a shirt, slop on some broad spectrum sunscreen, slap on a hat and enjoy the summer. And don’t forget some cool sunnies to protect your eyes.

Patricia Kime is the health reporter for Military Times. She can be reached at pkime@militarytimes.com.