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High SPF Not Necessarily Better

There are hundreds of sunscreen formulations on the market and consumers can feel overwhelmed with the number of choices. Dr. Jennifer Stein, a Dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, has some advice on proper sun protection.

When choosing sunscreen at your local drug store, Stein suggests choosing one with at least SPF 15 or SPF 30. "SPF tells you how much UVB protection there is, and you also want to look for UVA as well as UVB protection," says Stein.

Also, keep in mind that a high SPF, such as SPF 80 or 90, only offers marginally better protection than its lower numbered counterparts. "Most important is to apply enough and to reapply every two hours," says Stein. To ensure proper application, use enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass, which equates to an ounce of product. So, if your sunscreen bottle is only 8 ounces, that means you should get about 8 applications from that one bottle. If you want to save on sunscreen, try looking for clothing that offers SPF protection. That way, you'll only need to slather lotion on your body parts that are exposed.

Even the most diligent person can end up with a sunburn, though. For routine burns, you can lessen the sting by using cooling agents, such as aloe lotion or a cool bath or compress. To reduce inflammation and pain, consider using over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen. Doctors caution the use of aspirin in children, though, due to the risk of Reye's Syndrome. Talk to your doctor before using any new pain relievers, even if they are available over-the-counter.

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If your sunburn is blistering and causing severe pain, Stein suggests visiting a dermatologist. He or she may be able to prescribe pain relievers or a topical ointment to help the burn heal. If you have additional symptoms, such as feeling ill, or you're confused or have a fever and/or chills, seek immediate medical attention.

Discussions on sun safety often focus on a major concern: skin cancer. Recognizing skin cancer early is an important step in successful treatment. Stein says one early sign of skin cancer is something new or changing on your skin. "You're looking for... a mole that looks different from the rest of your moles," says Stein. "We have this mnemonic that was developed at NYU - ABCDE - and these are signs, early signs of melanoma which is the deadliest form of skin cancer." A stands for asymmetry - the mole or spot has one side that looks different from the other. B stands for border. If the spot has an irregular border, have it checked out by a doctor. C is for color; it's important to keep a close eye on moles with several colors or odd colors. "D for diameter," says Stein. "Anything bigger than a pencil eraser should be looked at more carefully." Finally, E is for evolving. If you have a mole or spot and it looks like it's changing in some way, see your doctor.

For more advice on skin cancer and sun protection, visit your local dermatologist or health care professional. They'll be able to give you individualized tips based on your current level of health and family history.

By Erin Petrun

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