Some seniors believe that sun damage that leads to skin cancer occurs only during childhood. So, if they haven’t developed skin cancer by now, they don’t need to worry about it during their retirement years. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, people over the age of 65 account for more than half of deaths related to skin cancer. Because the risk of developing or dying from skin cancer rises as you grow older, people of all ages need to routinely use sunscreen.
You don’t have to be outside for hours at a time to experience sunburn. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can actually begin to cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes, and that includes on a cloudy day. This is why it’s important to apply sunscreen even if you are only heading out for a quick walk or to tend your flowers. Also remember that some UV rays can penetrate glass. So, if you will be relaxing in a sunroom or riding in a car, you should probably still layer on sunscreen.
SPF (sun protection factor) is what determines how well a sunscreen can absorb and reflect the sun’s rays. A sunscreen that is labeled SPF 30 protects against 97% of the sun’s burning rays. That’s generally what dermatologists recommend people, especially seniors, routinely use.
A popular sunscreen myth is that if you want to stay outside longer without reapplying sunscreen, you need only to wear a product with a higher SPF. That’s just not true. You’ll need to reapply sunscreen every 2–6 hours according to the directions on the label. If you are sweating a lot or swimming, you’ll need to apply it even more frequently.
When choosing a sunscreen, invest in one that offers broad-spectrum protection. Those shield you from both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and account for 95% of rays. UVB rays make up a smaller percentage of UV rays but cause the most sunburns and sun damage.
Research shows there is very little difference in effectiveness between sunscreen sticks, sprays, gels, and creams. By purchasing sunscreen in different forms, you might be able to better protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays. Sunscreen sticks are easier to apply around your nose and ears, and also convenient to take along on a bike ride and walk. Sprays and creams, by contrast, can quickly cover larger areas of the body, like your chest, legs, and arms. Gel sunscreen adheres better to areas with hair, such as the hairline and scalp.
A mistake some people make is applying too little sunscreen before heading outdoors. A thin layer just isn’t enough. Follow the directions on the bottle. A rule of thumb you might find helpful is to fill a shot glass full of sunscreen and apply it in thick layers all over your skin.
While sunscreen is an important part of summer sun safety, there’s another factor to keep in mind: hydration. Seniors are at increased risk for becoming dehydrated when the mercury and humidity rise. Summer Hydration 101 for Older Adults is a quick read to help you learn what you can do to prevent dehydration in yourself or a senior loved one.