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FOR EXPERT COMMENT: MU Dermatologist Offers Tips to Protect Skin from Sun Damage

July 23rd, 2012

Story Contact: Jesslyn Chew,

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

By Kate McIntyre

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Most states have restricted teenagers’ use of indoor tanning salons, but many people continue to tan both indoors and outside, even though exposure to ultraviolet radiation increases the likelihood they will become one of two million Americans diagnosed with skin cancer annually. University of Missouri skin cancer prevention expert Dr. Susan Zurowski, director of community clinics and associate professor of dermatology in the MU School of Medicine, says many people misunderstand the best ways to protect skin from the sun.

“There’s no such thing as a safe tan,” Zurowski said. “Whether tanning outside or in tanning beds, no amount of exposure to ultraviolet rays is healthy. It’s abusive to skin.”

Zurowski cautions those who purposefully tan outside, even with sunscreen. She says doing so still puts skin at risk for sun damage.

Zurowski offers helpful tips to protect skin from sun damage:
• Use broad-spectrum sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher;
• Apply about 1 oz. of sunscreen–enough to fill a shot glass—30 minutes before exposure, and reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating;
• Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest;
• Wear sun-protective clothing, wide-brim hats and sunglasses.

Although many vacationers think getting a “base tan” will prevent them from getting sunburns, Zurowski says these tans are unnecessary and actually increase people’s risk of cancer and premature skin aging.

“It’s a myth that people should get base tans before going on vacation or being exposed to the sun’s rays,” Zurowski said. “Nowadays, sunscreen is strong enough that it offers more protection than in the past. When applied and reapplied correctly, sunscreen does its job well and helps to prevent burns from the sun.”