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1. You need a sunscreen even if you're tan. This is an easy rule to remember: You need sunscreen anytime you're in the sun -- even on cloudy days and even if you're tan -- because you're continually being exposed to the sun's damaging rays, says dermatologist Andrew Kaufman, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at UCLA. If you're planning on being out in the sun for longer than 15 minutes, make sure to use a sunscreen with SPF 30. To get some color before you head to the beach, try self-tanners that contain SPF like Clarins Self Tanning Spray SPF 15 ($20.50; clarins.com) or Biotherm Bronz' Beaute Express SPF 12 ($20; 888-BIOTHERM). Just remember the next rule, which is...

2. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. No sunscreen is completely waterproof, sweatproof or rubproof. "You need to reapply every two hours even if your sunscreen label says it's waterproof or water resistant," Kaufman says. To help you know when it's time to reapply or get out of the sun, there's a new product called Sunspots ($6; sunspots.com). These nickel-size yellow stickers can be applied to your skin under sunscreen before you go out in the sun. Once they turn orange, it's time to reapply. A good allover sunscreen is Origins Beach Blanket SPF 15 ($16.50; origins.com).

3. Don't forget your feet and your ears. For some reason, most people never apply sunscreen to their feet or their ears. But skin cancer is just as prevalent in these areas as it is anywhere else on the body. The bottom line: Slather up all areas exposed to the sun. Try easy-to-use Coppertone Sport Sunblock Stick SPF 30 ($5; copperstone.com) for those oft-forgotten spots.

4. Give your lips extra protection. The truth is that most of us neglect our thin-skinned lips when it comes to the sun's rays -- leaving our lips particularly vulnerable to painful sunburns and the lip lines and wrinkles associated with aging. Remember to always apply (and reapply at least every hour) a lip-protection balm like The Body Shop Vitamin E Lip Care SPF 15 ($8; 800-BODY-SHOP) or Blistex Lip Tone SPF 15 ($2; blistex.com).

5. Know that not all sunscreens are created equal. Although most sunscreens block both UVA (the rays that cause skin cancer) and UVB rays (the rays that cause sunburn), check the label to be sure. Choose one that is broad spectrum, meaning it blocks out both types of rays. Also new on the market: Last year, Los Angeles dermatologist Howard Murad, M.D., spiked his sunscreen line with pomegranate extract, an antioxidant that increased the sunscreen's efficacy by almost 20 percent in manufacturer-sponsored clinical trials. Some studies have also shown that the antioxidant vitamins C and E may also increase the effectiveness of sunscreens.

Your best sunscreen bets: Neutrogena UVA/UVB Sunblock SPF 45 ($8; neutrogena.com), Murad Daily Defense Oil-Free Sunblock SPF 15 ($20; 800-33-MURAD) and M.D. Skincare Waterproof Sunscreen with vitamin C SPF 30 ($23.50; mdskincare.com).

Skin-cancer update

* The real problem with severe sunburns "Sunburns greatly increase your risk of developing skin cancer down the road -- especially if you're fair skinned," says Eric Carter, M.D., assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University.
How to prevent Avoid the sun between midmorning and midafternoon. (Carter's trick: Check your shadow. If it's very short, it's a bad time to be outside.) And wear a generous helping of sunscreen with SPF -- always.
How to treat Apply cool compresses and aloe or calamine lotion to scorched skin. You can also take ibuprofen to reduce swelling and pain.

* An easier way to treat skin cancer? A cream used to treat genital warts may well become the latest skin-cancer treatment. Researchers at the Melbourne, Australia-based Skin and Cancer Foundation found that when applied daily for a six-week period, the cream (Imiquimod in Australia and Aldara in the United States) seems to help the body's immune system fight superficial basal-cell carcinomas -- one of the most common types of skin cancer. If further studies (underway) come to this same conclusion, the cream may offer an alternative to painful and invasive traditional treatments like burning, freezing, cutting or scraping.

* A morning-after cream... A topical compound called the T4 yeast enzyme has shown promise for repairing skin damage caused by serious sunburn. Dubbed "the morning-after cream" by skin-cancer specialist David Leffell, M.D., T4 may work by preventing the Ps3 gene from mutating. The mutated gene is present in those with skin cancer, but in those who don't have skin cancer the gene is normal, says Leffell, chief of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at Yale University and the author of Total Skin (Hyperion, 2000). The theory is that by preventing this gene from mutating you may be able to prevent skin cancer from occurring. Further research still needs to be done.

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