Can a sunburn ever be healthy?

In the last 40 years, the use of sunscreen has increased significantly, but so have the incidences of skin cancer. Some say this is just because doctors are getting better at finding (and reporting) skin cancer. Others wonder if sunscreen could be the cause of all that cancer (news flash: it's not). Here's a theory that makes sense:

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Chemist Joe Lewis, the founder of the Priori skin care line (and the guy who basically introduced the world to alpha hydroxy acids, idebenone, and a bunch of other anti-aging ingredients) says a sunburn might not be such a bad thing after all. Evolutionarily speaking, it's a built-in UV-detection system that tells us when to get out of the sun. After all, you're not going to stay outdoors when your skin feels like it's on fire.

Now that we're all wearing sunscreen, we're able to stay out in the sun all day without looking like lobsters because sunscreen protects us from the UVB rays that cause skin to burn. Good, right? Not necessarily. Just because you're outdoors and your skin isn't turning red, that doesn't mean you're safe. You're still exposed to UVA rays. And guess which type of rays do the deep-down damage that causes most skin cancer? That's right: UVA rays.

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We're not advocating that you go in the sun with bare skin and simply come indoors once you burn. And Lewis isn't either. Instead, make sure you use a sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and reapply every two hours. Why? The UVA-blocking ingredients start to break down the minute your skin is exposed to the sun, so even though you may be able to stay in the sun for 2 hours without burning, at the end of those 2 hours, pretty much all your UVA protection is gone. Even the best and newest sunscreens with stabilized UVA blockers still only last 2 hours at most. Then follow these 5 tips to stay as safe as possible in the sun:

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1. Only Wear Broad Spectrum SPF 30 and Higher: Doctors recommend SPF 30 on a daily basis (higher if you're at the beach) because it blocks about 97% of UVB rays. The reason you need broad spectrum is because current regulations only require SPF to indicate the product's UVB protection. While it's important to block these because UVB rays lead to the development of the two most common types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), remember that UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, triggering melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. While it's true that melanoma is usually curable when caught early, it still kills 8,000 Americans a year.

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2. Reapply Every 2 Hours: The UVA-blocking ingredients start to break down the minute your skin is exposed to the sun, so even though you may be able to stay in the sun for 2 hours without burning, at the end of those 2 hours, pretty much all your UVA protection is gone. Even the best and newest sunscreens with stabilized UVA blockers still only last 2 hours at most. If you don't think you'll remember to reapply every 2 hours, try using Coppertone's iPhone App or Sun Bracelet.

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3. Wear UPF Clothing: Can a T-shirt help protect you from the sun? Sure, but only by a factor of about UPF 7 (in clothing, it's called UPF rather than SPF). Unfortunately, apparel with built-in sun protection used to look (we'll say it) a little dorky. Now new lines with great designs and healthy skin-minded motivations, like Mott 50, make dresses, tunics, shirts, and lightweight outerwear that you actually want to wear and can lend you an UPF factor up to 50-that's about 98% of UV rays. You can also try a detergent that adds UPF to your clothes. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends SunGuard, which can add UPF 30 to your clothes.

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4. Take a Shot: When you're at the beach, you need a shot glass's worth of sunscreen from your hairline to your toes every time you reapply. Even though SPF 30 blocks 97% of the UVB rays, you won't really get that level if you're not using the correct amount. Using the equivalent of a shot glass of sunscreen-that's 2 tablespoons-to cover skin from head to toe is the recommended amount in order to achieve the SPF touted on the bottle.

The Best Sunscreen for You

5. Follow The 30 Minute Rule For optimum sun protection right as you head out the door, apply to dry skin half an hour before sun exposure. To deliver the promised SPF, the ingredients in sunscreen have to form a film over the skin's surface; if you apply typical sunscreens once you're in the sun and sweating, they won't stick to skin. When you're on the beach or by the pool, bring new sunscreens that adhere to wet skin, like the Aveeno Hydrosport and Neutrogena Wet Skin lines.


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