Growing up, I was never the best with sun protection. I believed that the first sunburn of the summer was essential to set up my tan for the rest of the year. Only now, after spending years in a dermatology clinic, do I truly understand the negative effects the sun can have on our skin. When you see skin cancers all day, every day, you can’t help but want to lather up with sunscreen.
Too much exposure to the sun causes skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generally slow-growing skin cancers that rarely spread to other parts of the body. They can cause serious problems if left untreated. Melanoma is a more serious type of skin cancer that is much more likely to spread to other parts of the body. It often starts as a simple dark spot that can be deadly.
There is a high rate of skin cancer in our community. Early detection is essential for any type of skin cancer. If you notice any spots that are growing, bleeding or just won’t go away, consider seeing a dermatologist. Also, if you notice any moles that are oddly shaped, growing larger, or changing in any way or have multiple colors, have them checked out by a dermatologist.
In addition to the risk for skin cancer, the sun also makes your skin look older. Photodamage from the sun leads to wrinkling and dark spots on the skin. While you may like how young and tan you look now, you may not like the leathery, wrinkled look you develop in the future.
How can you protect yourself from the sun?
- Wear sunscreen. There are two types of sunscreens: physical sunscreens and chemical sunscreens. Physical sunscreens contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They work by deflecting ultraviolet (UV) rays before the skin absorbs them. Chemical sunscreens contain compounds that absorb UV rays and change the energy to heat. On the sunscreen ingredients list, these compounds often end in “-one” or “-ate.”
- Look for a sunscreen that is broad spectrum; meaning it covers both UVA and UVB rays. If you will be spending time in the water or working out, use a water-resistant sunscreen. You also want a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 (SPF 50 is recommended).
- If you find that you develop a rash when you wear sunscreen, use a physical sunscreen. Physical sunscreens are not absorbed by the skin and are less likely to irritate your skin. They work very well for patients with sensitive skin.
- In general, I recommend physical sunscreens with good broad-spectrum coverage and an SPF of 50. However, any sunscreen is better than no sunscreen.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours while you are in the sun. People often remember to put on sunscreen at the start of the day, but forget to reapply throughout the day.
- For your normal daily use, try a facial moisturizer that contains sunscreen. Ladies, don’t forget to protect your upper chest and neck, as this area is often exposed to a lot of sun.
- If possible, avoid being outside during peak sun hours between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Try wearing sun protective clothing. Clothes have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) with the higher UPF fabrics blocking a higher percentage of UV rays. Look for clothing with a UPF 50+ rating. Nowadays, there are many more stylish options for sun-protective clothing. When you wear sun protective clothing, you don’t have to remember to put on your sunscreen or worry about reapplying every two hours. Wide brimmed hats provide good protection for your scalp, face, ears and neck.
- Avoid the tanning bed. It is not worth it. Tanning bed use increases your risk of melanoma. Plus, it is expensive. If you absolutely must be tan, consider using a spray tan.
- If you have kids, take the time to coat them in sunscreen. It can be a hassle, but it is worth the effort. Blistering sunburns increase your risk of skin cancer. I recommend physical sunscreens that contain only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for kids. You can safely use these pure physical sunscreens on infants under the age of 6 months. You should not use chemical sunscreens on infants under the age of 6 months. Swim shirts, rash guards, long sleeve swimsuits and hats do a great job of protecting children from the sun.
Remember, whether you believe you need the first sunburn of the year to set up your tan or you spent more time in the tanning bed than the classroom, it is never too late to start protecting yourself from the sun.