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How much damage does one sunburn do?

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Albany/HV: How much damage does one sunburn do?
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More people are headed outside for barbecues, bike rides and swimming. And even if you're out for just an hour or two, don't forget your sunscreen. Our Katie Gibas spoke with experts about the advances in sunscreen and how much just one sunburn increases your risk for skin cancer.

UNITED STATES -- Even though modern sunscreen was invented in the 1930s and available for widespread use in the 1940s, the idea can be traced back thousands of years to the ancient Egyptians.

"They used things like jasmine, plant extracts, rice extracts that actually worked to some degree. They may have had a minimal SPF, maybe something around two," said Dr. Ramsay Farah, the SUNY Upstate Medical University Chief of Dermatology.

Today, sunscreens range from SPF two to over 100. And only sunscreens labeled “broad spectrum” protect people from UVA rays, which contribute to skin cancer. But how much protection are you actually getting from different SPFs?

"Sun protection factor 15 blocks out about 93 percent of the sun's harmful rays., were an SPF of maybe 30 does 97 percent. As you go to 50, it goes up another percentage," said Michael Kupiec, a Kinney Drugs pharmacist.

Farah added, "An SPF of 100 is really going to improve upon that very minimally, almost to a negligible degree."

Once you choose a sunscreen that best fits your needs, experts say the most important thing is to apply it correctly and apply often.

"Really apply a nice even coat and you should really do that 30 minutes before you go out in the sun to allow it to start working and then reapply a nice even coat every two hours when you are out in the sun," said Kupiec.

But if you forget to reapply and you do get a sunburn, how much damage is actually done to your skin?

"One bad sunburn a year is definitely enough to cause skin cancer. A sunburn is much worse than a suntan, in terms of your skin cancer risk. But both of those reactions are telling you that you've gotten some DNA damage from the sun. So if you've got more than three blistering sunburns before the age of 20, you double your risk for a skin cancer," said Farah.

And if you feel like you're getting sunburned quicker or more often than in years past, you're probably right.

"In many ways the sun we have today is stronger than the sun that maybe our grandmother was exposed to. In Queensland, Australia, they have the highest rate of melanoma in the world. And that coordinates with the fact that most people are fair skinned in that area and they live right under one of the major ozone holes our planet has," said Farah.

Experts also recommend wearing SPF clothing and wide brimmed hats and staying out of the sun during peak hours.

Experts say as a general rule, if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun's rays are the most harmful, and you need to stay in the shade as much as possible.

And don't forget that when it's cloudy out, those UVA and UVB rays can still cause a burn. ClientIP:,, UserAgent: CCBot/2.0 ( Profile: TWCSAMLSP