According to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, patients need to do a little more than apply sunscreen to prevent skin cancer.

“Unfortunately, sunscreen gives us a false sense of security,” says Bruce Brod, MD, a Philadelphia dermatologist. “It’s like driving a car. A seatbelt can save your life, but you also need to drive responsibly. The same goes for sun exposure—you can apply sunscreen, but that alone won’t prevent skin cancer.”

In a statewide poll recently conducted by the society, more than 60% of respondents indicated that they rarely wore sunscreen even though they were concerned about cancer. Between 2001 and 2005, more than 2,000 Pennsylvanians died of melanoma. The poll also showed that males were less likely to wear sunscreen, putting them at a higher risk for skin cancer.

“Patients come back from vacation and tell me proudly that they had a good ‘base’ and used sunscreen and I tell them that the fact that you’re tan means there’s skin damage,” Brod says.

John Laskas Jr, MD, a dermatologist and current president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, advises patients to be reasonable.

“Don’t sunbathe—indoors or outdoors,” he says. “When you do go outdoors, wear a sunblock that protects against UVA and UVB rays. If you’re bald, wear a hat and if you absolutely have to be tan, try some of the new self-tanning products to get that ‘golden glow.’”

Dermatologists offer the following sun safety tips:

• Keep sunscreen handy. Apply at least 1 ounce first thing in the morning before going outside. Reapply often if you are outdoors and immediately after swimming. Choose an SPF 30 or higher that protects against UVA and UVB rays.

• Cover up. Wear a hat that covers your ears. Wear sunglasses. Wear a lightweight shirt and pants that cover as much skin as possible.

• Avoid peak hours. Stay out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm when UV rays are strongest. Stay in the shade whenever possible.

• Avoid tanning salons. Ten minutes in a tanning bed equals 2 hours in the sun.

• Examine your skin regularly. Schedule a yearly exam with a dermatologist.

[Newswise, May 18, 2007]