American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Sun Exposure and Skin Cancer

Guests: Briana Heniford, MD, member of the department of plastic surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, and Jeffrey Gershenwald, MD, FACS, professor in the department of surgical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX.

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With the height of summer now here, having the knowledge of how to protect your skin from the sun is particularly important. Today, the labels on sunscreen products use terms like “broad spectrum” and boast increasingly higher SPF numbers, making the choice of the right products a challenge.   

Is there a difference between sunblock and sunscreen? What do the SPF numbers mean? Are tanning beds safer than direct exposure to the sun? In this episode, host Dr. Rick Greene speaks with two experts, Briana Heniford, MD, and Jeffrey Gershenwald, MD, FACS, about issues related to sun protection and skin cancer.

“I think that awareness of skin cancer needs to be a part of our daily existence, and recognizing that the sun is an important part of who we are here, but we also need to moderate exposure,” said Dr. Gershenwald. He noted that many outdoor activities people partake in can still be enjoyed, but they also need to realize there are long-term effects of excess sun exposure.

Dr. Heniford stressed that the term “sunblock” is misleading because products that have such a description are never able to fully block the sun, and that “sunscreen” is a more appropriate term for the function of the product. She also said, “You need an SPF of 15 for sure for daily use, and perhaps up to a 30 SPF when you’re really going to be outside.” 


Dr. Heniford is a member of the department of plastic surgery at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC. She has specialties in otolaryngology and plastic surgery and received her medical training at the University of Louisville. She has received numerous awards for her work including the American College of Surgeons Resident Research in Otolaryngology Award.

Dr. Gershenwald is a professor in the department of surgical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX. He is also the medical director of the Melanoma and Skin Center at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. He received his medical training at Cornell University Medical College in New York, NY, and has authored or coauthored over 150 peer-reviewed original research articles.