What’s better than spending some time relaxing in the summer sun?

It is one of the best parts of this time of year. It’s also a good time to remind you why you need to wear your sunscreen. More than 5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually. According to the American Cancer Society, that number is more than breast, prostate, colon and lung cancer cases combined. And malignant melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

By now, most of you are familiar with SPF, or sun protection factor. An SPF of 30 is the minimum recommendation by the American Academy of Dermatology. The SPF number represents a relative measure of how long you can stay in the sun before getting burned. So, if a person normally burns in 10 minutes, an SPF 30 would give them 30 times 10 minutes in the sun, if applied correctly, but often, it is not. In fact, 53 percent of people surveyed by Consumer Reports said they rarely or never use sunscreen.

In May of this year, Consumer Reports released its annual list of the top sunscreens. It put more than 58 sunscreens to the test, all with SPF 30 or higher, to see if they met their advertised SPF claims listed on the bottle. They found 35 percent of them did not meet even half of their SPF claim. While manufacturers are required to test their products, they generally only do so when a product rolls out to the consumer, or is reformulated. Even then, the companies don’t have to submit their results and are required only to keep them on hand in the event the FDA asks to review them.

Truth is, no sunscreen can block 100 percent of ultra-violet rays (UVA, UVB). Researchers have been looking at the effect of solar radiation on gene P53, which typically releases protein that guards against UV. But solar radiation impairs that gene and so far no sunscreen has been able to prevent this. True SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of UVB rays, and SPF 50 blocks 98 percent.

What can you count on?

• Look for sunscreens with an SPF of 40 or higher with chemical active ingredients like avobenzone – that will give you the best chance of getting an SPF 30.

• Use those sunscreens which give both UVA and UVB protection daily (UVA being the most potent ) even on cloudy days.

• Shake the bottle to help distribute the active ingredients before applying.

• Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply every two hours and anytime you get out of the water.

• 90 percent of skin damage (premature skin aging) is caused by UV exposure.

• Stay in the shade, especially during the hours of 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.

• Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.

• Wear sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays.

• Avoid indoor tanning.

If you do get burned, here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control:

• Take aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen to relieve pain, headache, and fever.

• Drink plenty of water to help replace fluid losses.

• Comfort burns with cool baths or the gentle application of cool wet cloths.

• Avoid further exposure until the burn has resolved.

• Use of a topical moisturizing cream, aloe, or 1 percent hydrocortisone cream may provide additional relief.

Look at your own skin every month. If you recognize changes in moles and skin growths, call your primary care doctor or dermatologist. There isn't much of a consensus on screening recommendations.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released a recommendation statement in July of last year about screening for skin cancer. It concluded the current evidence for full-body visual skin exams to detect melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer in adults, but recognized the need for more research in the area.

In the meantime, if something on your skin changes, or looks out of place, call your doctor – especially if you have a history of skin cancer or melanoma. The good news about skin cancer is that it's totally curable, if detected early.

-- You can get your skin checked out any of our St. Mary’s Medical Groups. To set an appointment call Blue Springs Internal Medicine at 816-228-9841, Family Medical Care Associates at 816-228-1000 or Oak Grove Medical Clinic at 816-690-6566.