With summer around the corner, more people will be heading outdoors.
But too much sun exposure is an ever-present concern for doctors. "Being in New Mexico and West Texas, because we are so close to the equator, and because of our elevation, we have a higher risk of skin cancer, and I have probably diagnosed two to three skin cancers a week, at least," says Dr. John Andazola, a physician with the Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces and program director of the Southern New Mexico family medicine residency program.
Having the right sunscreen is important in preventing skin cancer. "The sunscreens we recommend are anything with an SPF (skin protection factor) of 15 to 30. And that's really...what's important," says the doctor, adding the SPF recommendation of 15 to 30 follows the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and the American Association of Dermatology.
He adds any sunscreen with a skin protection factor higher than that won't make much of a difference. "(SPF) 30 will take you at about 97% to 98% (of protection); anything above that...if you go to 45 to 50...50 covers about 99%. If you go to 70, it's 99.1%. If you go to 80, it's 99.2%," he says.
However, the doctor stresses it's important to slather on the sunscreen...frequently. "For this to be effective, it has to be on 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside. And then it should be every two to three hours. If you're swimming or sweating, you should apply it more often."
"You need to cover on an average day - the average body - you need 30 milliliters or ounce. That's two of these cups," he says, referring to a cough or cold medicine cup.
And if your sunscreen is at least three years old, it needs to be thrown away because time breaks down the chemicals that block the sun's ultraviolet rays.