Summer sun safety: Small sun exposure adds up

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ROANOKE (WSLS10)-- Memorial Day is almost here, which means pools are opening and family vacations are starting-- but it also means more time in the sun. Experts say it's not just the long days at the beach that can have negative impacts, but our short day to day activities can lead to skin damage as well.

The short bursts of time in the sun are something we don't think about or prepare for, and don't put on sunscreen for. A few minutes in the sun to and from our cars, time spent by a window with the sun beaming in or an unplanned lunch or dinner outside to enjoy the nice weather. While it doesn't seem like a lot, this is all time in the sun that we typically wouldn't put on sunscreen, but can really add up.

"If you stood in front of an X Ray machine for just a few seconds, day after day-- we'd all realize that is really going to add up and be damaging," says Carilion Clinic Dermatologist, Dr. Philip Wakefield. "The same goes for the sun. So five minutes per day, think about that after a week or a month. It starts to add up to a significant amount of sun damage for our skin."

Dr. Wakefield says the best way to protect ourselves is to apply sunscreen every morning, whether we plan to go outside or not. He says its easiest to make it part of our morning routine, turning it into something we always do right after the shower or before brushing our teeth.

When it comes to time spent out in the sun, many of us get confused about the difference in UVA and UVB rays. Experts say UVB rays are typically what we think about when it comes to sunscreen. Those are the rays that impact the top layers of our skin, leading to sunburn, wrinkles and play a key role in skin cancer.

UVA rays can reach the deeper layers of our skin and can also impact us in places we might not expect, like while sitting behind a window.

"Glass blocks Ultraviolet-B, which causes most of the sunburn," says Dr. Wakefield. "But Ultraviolet-A comes through the window and goes deeper in the skin. It causes a lot of the aging and has been known to cause skin cancer as well. It's important to watch out for those areas and wear sunscreen that say 'Broad Spectrum,' that means they block UVA as well-- especially if you're a driver or someone who is in front of a window a lot."

When applying sunscreen, many of us don't use enough. If it dries in ten seconds or less, Dr. Wakefield says we need to put on more. The average face takes about a teaspoon of sunscreen and the entire body takes two tablespoons or more a day.

Despite the number of melanoma cases doubling in recent decades, industry experts say the FDA has delayed the approval of new, potentially life saving sunscreen ingredients for the past 14 years. The delays come as the sunscreen manufacturers submit data on the safety of the products and wait for regulators to get around to them. The list of safe ingredients has remained unchanged since 1972, something that sunscreen companies and doctors are working hard to change. You can read more about the ingredient delays here.