How to dodge the effects of UV damage.
The weather is heating up, and many of us are running out to spend time in the sun, much to the detriment of our skin. Not only can exposure to UV rays lead to wrinkles and premature aging, it’s the leading cause of skin cancer — the most common types being basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Skin cancers are caused not only by time spent in the sun on a given day, but by an accumulation of sun exposure throughout one’s life.
If you’ve brushed it off in the past, now is the time to start protecting yourself. Sun damage is serious, but there are simple ways to minimize it.
Wearing sunscreen is the obvious one, but it’s also easy to forget. You can’t just put it on once a day; the current recommendation is using sunscreen and lip balm with SPF 30 or above, and reapplying all over your body and face once every hour. However, unless you’re going to the beach or laying out by the pool, most people only apply it once in the morning before they head out the door. Seldom do they remember to reapply it at all, let alone every hour.
Oklahoma-based dermatologist Dr. Stacie Rougas understands that “logistically speaking, no one ever does that … so most physicians will say get it on at least once every two hours.”
It’s also important to note that no sunscreen is “waterproof.” Sunscreen packaging now says “water-resistant,” but the testing process only requires that the product is submerged in water for a set time and then lifted out, which is obviously not how most people swim. “We know that just by moving around, we’re sweating it off, we’re rubbing it off, the pool’s washing it off … so you have to reapply more often,” Rougas said.
There’s also a debate regarding mineral versus chemical sunscreens, which work to shield your skin from the sun in different ways. Mineral sunscreens have ingredients that sit directly on top of the skin’s surface like a barrier and physically prevent UV rays from penetrating the skin. Chemical sunscreens allow UV light into the skin, but the ingredients create a reaction in which the UV light is converted into heat, which then dispels it from the skin.
So, which one is better? Although some believe chemical sunscreens increase cancer risk, there are no clear-cut studies that prove this theory. Mineral-based sunscreens are safe, but they may not rub in as well and can sometimes leave a chalky white cast. Broad-spectrum sunscreens may be most effective overall.
It’s also recommended that you wear sun protective clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 40 or 50, especially if you constantly forget to put on sunscreen. Wearing UPF clothing means you don’t have to worry about wearing sunscreen under your clothing because, yes, UV rays penetrate through your clothes.
“Most clothing without UV protectant factor only has a UPF or an SPF of 10 to 20 … it’s not good enough,” Rougas said. It’s also important to wear hats to protect your nose and ears — these are areas that stick out the most.
UV light is strongest during regular business hours. Since we get so much sun in Oklahoma, Rougas recommends staying indoors when you can from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Making sure your kids are taught the importance of sunscreen and sun safety is important, and covered playgrounds can limit their sun exposure during those hours.
Using a tanning bed before going to the beach so you don’t get burned, though, increases your risk for skin cancer. “Nothing is more heartbreaking than a 20-year-old with melanoma because (they were) tanning to look pretty as a teenager,” Rougas said.
The sun is scorching in the summer, but it has the same UV rays all year-round, so it’s best to use sunscreen whether it’s spring, fall, winter or summer.
Here are a few sun safety tips for the summer:
• SkinBetter and EltaMD make cosmetically sensitive sunscreens that don’t leave a white cast.
• Academy Sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Columbia, Amazon and Target all carry UPF clothing — look for a UPF of 40 or higher.
• The sun reflects UV rays o snow, water and ice. Wear sunscreen year-round.
• Stay away from tanning beds and use sunless tanning products like bronzers and self-tanner instead.
• Check the UV Index forecast online or via TV or radio — if it’s over 3, wear sun protection.
• Wear UV-protection sunglasses and eyewear to protect your eyes from sun damage.
• If the top of your head is exposed, rub in some sunscreen or wear a hat.
• Certain medications can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. Ask your doctor if this is the case for you. If it is, take extra precautions.
• If you end up with a sunburn, apply moisturizer and aloe vera — avoid scratching it.