Safe Sunning

The basic advice about protecting yourself from the harmful effects of the sun remains sound, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The department continues efforts, launched in 1998 with its "Choose Your Cover" public education campaign, to help all Americans, but especially the young, prevent skin disorders associated with excessive exposure to the sun.

The recommendation is simple: To prevent premature aging, sun damage, and skin cancer, you need to protect yourself and your family from the harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. And sunscreen alone will not protect you. You need to use a total program to reduce the sun's harmful effects, including:

* Lavishly apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and reapply it every two hours according to the directions on the label.
* Reapply sunscreen as needed after swimming, sweating or towel drying. And use sunscreen even on cloudy days.
* Avoid the sun during the middle of the day, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the atmosphere absorbs less of the harmful UV rays of sunlight than earlier or later in the day.
* If you have to be out in the midday sun, avoid long periods of direct sun exposure. Stay in the shade.
* Wear a wide-brimmed hat, protective clothing, and sunglasses.
* Never leave children exposed to the sun without adequate protection. Because of the long time it takes for cancer to develop, studies suggest that over-exposure early in life may lead to skin cancers later in life.

Although industry studies show that consumer use of sunscreen products continues to improve--up 13 percent in 1999--the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that consumers still do not apply the correct amounts of sunscreen to achieve the full benefit.

A study sponsored by Seventeen Magazine, Beiersdorf Inc.'s Nivea brand, and the AAD found an increase in the use of sunscreen by teens, but also found problems: Eighty-eight percent of teens spend a significant amount of time in the sun, but only 72 percent say they use sunscreen at least some of the time. Only about 40 percent of the teens say they use sunscreen often or all of the time. Young women use sunscreen more than young men (46.2 percent compared to 30.5 percent), and the reasons given for not using it include the belief that they never burn (30 percent), inconvenience (17 percent), and the desire for a dark tan (6 percent).

The difficulty, of course, is that teenagers won't see the effects of sun damage until they reach their 40s and 50s or later. By then, however, the damage already is done.