As a native Floridian, I reached peak childhood dream status when I played for my hometown team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As an offensive lineman, my ability to grip other players (see: holding) was crucial to my job security. As I walked through the training room to get taped on my way out to practice, I would always be careful to avoid the clouds of Coppertone sunscreen all around me; I couldn’t risk letting my grip get compromised! I played 9 years of professional football in the Sunbelt, 5 for Tampa, 2 for Miami, and 2 for Arizona. I don’t think I applied sunscreen one time… As a professional athlete, I saw top-of-the-line healthcare providers frequently, and they never mentioned preventative skin screenings or sun protection despite my outdoor career and extreme sun exposure (plug: something Encap Health can do automatically). It’s not the best move for a Fitzpatrick skin type of 2 (Fitzpatrick referring to the 6-scale skin classification system – not the sunburned quarterback).
My sunscreen enlightenment:
When my daughter was born in 2015, I dove into sun protection. Mineral sunscreens, sun-protective shirts, and big hats – I couldn’t let my precious baby get baked like a piece of KFC chicken as I allowed myself to be.
If you’ve tried to buy sunscreen in the last decade, you’ve likely been confused or overwhelmed.
Do you buy spray or cream, chemical or mineral? Do they expire every year?
Here are some tips I learned along the way from personal experience as well as from The Environmental Working Group and the American Academy of Dermatology:
- Oxybenzone (toxic), Vitamin A (increases skin damage), and added insect repellant (toxic)
- Sprays (can be toxic for skin and lungs)
- SPF above 50 (similar protection as SPF 30 but leads to more sun exposure with ‘false sense of security’)
- Zinc Oxide and Avobenzone
- Cream, broad-spectrum protection, water-resistant
- 2 oz (one “shot glass” amount) of sunscreen
- Apply 15-30 minutes before exposure and reapply every two hours
- Still use protection on cloudy days. UV rays penetrate clouds
- Wide-brimmed hats, sun-protective long-sleeved shirts (great for active children – plus you no longer have to look like a safari guide as the fashion has really advanced)
- Buy quality and replace every 3 years (sunscreen is required by the FDA to work for three years)
Annual skin screening and skin cancer prevention:
While I managed to get a Super Bowl ring from my time in the sun in Florida, I also got some serious sun damage! As a professional athlete, I saw top-of-the-line healthcare providers frequently, and they never mentioned preventative skin screenings or sun protection despite my outdoor career and extreme sun exposure. Did you know that most insurance companies cover a dermatological screen once a year as preventative care (can be done at your primary care provider or dermatologist)? During the visit, your provider examines your skin for any unusual spots on your skin. Some startups like Modern Ritual (https://modernritual.com/) are making skin screenings at your primary care provider even more effective by using cutting-edge imaging devices to send images to dermatology experts for virtual assessments. When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.
New software, like Encap Health, educates and engages patients at the complex intersection of medical care and lifestyle choices. It can automatically remind patients to get their annual dermatological screen and, at the same time, go into more specifics on skin protection. For me, I’m glad I now know the importance and nuances of sun protection and screenings – but I wish a doctor told me 10 years ago.
Author: Ted Larsen, Encap Health MBA Intern