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Health & Wellness: Sun Safety

on June 21, 2012 11:13 AM

Keep your skin protected this summer from sun’s harmful rays

By Iris Peters

   The summer is a time to go to the beach, be outside, and sit by the pool, but while enjoying these fun summer activities there is a possibility that your skin and body are being seriously damaged.

   With temperatures averaging in the mid-80s or higher during this time of year, it is important to learn how to protect your skin from the unrelenting sun. Unshielded exposure to the sun can cause severe harm to the body. Being outside in the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. can increase the risk of sunburn, photo damage, freckles, and many ultraviolet-related illnesses to the eyes, as well as the possible chance of skin cancer.

   Dr. Sara Ferguson, a dermatologist for the Penn State Hershey Medical Group, says sunburn can happen quickly, depending on factors such as skin pigment and medication. People with lighter skin tones burn more easily than people with darker skin tones. Medications also play a huge factor because some antibiotics and other prescriptions make skin more sensitive to the sun.

   Although some people may think otherwise, a tan is just as dangerous as sunburn. Some people believe a tan can be a form of protection from the sun, but in reality a tan has a sun protection factor (SPF) of only about four. It might not look blistered like sunburn, but it is still a form of damage to your skin.

   A common product used by sunbathers is tanning oil, which offers no form of protection, says Dr. Lorraine Rosamilia, a dermatologist at Geisinger-Scenery Park. Oily skin has an ability to absorb more light at once. If skin is dry and cracked, it scatters the light, but if it is oily it attracts the sun.

   Chronic exposure to the sun also causes photo damage, which is aging of the skin resulting in wrinkles, freckles, discoloration, and sunspots. There are no specific health risks with photo damage, but there are the health risks — sunburn and skin cancer — associated with the continual contact with the sun.

   When someone is unprotected out in the sun, the ultraviolet rays alter the way skin cells divide, causing mutations, Rosamilia says. If someone gets too many of those mutations there can be uncontrolled growth of skin cells and a deeper invasion of skin cancer. This causes the immune system and other controls that are usually in place to not work.

   In the next three years, it is expected that all skin-cancer cases in the US will increase to about one in five people, and melanoma cases will increase to 1 in 50 people, says Ferguson. According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma will account for more than 75,000 cases of skin cancer this year.

   In order to stay healthy and avoid any harmful damage from the sun during the summer, it is imperative to use the right tools such as the proper sunscreen.

   The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created new sunscreen regulations that will help people take more protective measures regarding their skin, Ferguson says. The FDA will soon make it a requirement for all sunscreen brands to shield ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, which is called broad-spectrum protection.

   Broad-spectrum protection works to prevent sunburn, cancer, and photo damage. However, this new rule for sunscreen is not going into effect until December for major-brand sunscreens, and December 2013 for small-brand sunscreens.

   “Though this rule won’t be achieved by all sunscreens for another year or so, there are sunscreens out there that already have broad-spectrum protection, and it is important to look for that on the bottle,” Ferguson says.

   Along with having broad-spectrum sunscreen, it is important to reapply the sunscreen every few hours, even if it is cloudy, and after getting in water or breaking a sweat.

   Technically, the SPF number indicates how long someone can be out in the sun without getting burned, but that is only valid for UVB rays, not UVA rays. It also is not valid when someone gets wet or sweats, so the numbers are a bit arbitrary, and individuals should still reapply sunscreen every few hours, Rosamilia says.

   A higher SPF provides more protection from the sun than a lower SPF would, therefore helping to prevent damage. It is recommended by dermatologists that an SPF of 30 or higher be used at all times.

   “Something that most people forget a lot of times is to apply sunscreen to their lips and ears,” Ferguson says. “Those two areas burn very easily on people, when protecting them is very simple. There are facial moisturizers now with SPF in them and many different types of chapstick have SPF in them, too.”

   There also are several different ways to protect your body from the sun in addition to wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen, including choosing the right options in clothing. When planning a day outside in the sun, a wide-brimmed hat is a better option than a baseball cap. The wide brim not only keeps you cooler but also shields the back of the neck and the ears, unlike what a baseball cap can do.

   “There is a higher chance for men to get skin cancer on the ears because as a general population they have shorter hair,” Rosamilia says.

   Besides a wide-brimmed hat, sun-protective clothing is recommended. Standard long-sleeve shirts and pants are a good option for someone when outside, but there are companies that make clothing that are specifically made to prevent sun damage.

   “A general T-shirt is only about an SPF of eight,” Ferguson says. “The companies that make clothes primarily for sun protection can have clothes with an SPF of 50 or more.”

   These pieces of clothing are mostly of cool, lightweight materials usually seen in longer pants and long-sleeve shirts. They are made to be comfortable outside in the scorching heat, yet safe for the skin.

   While protecting your skin is important, protecting your eyes also is very vital.

   Overexposure to the sun over time can cause the eyes to break down and disease to set in, says Camille Brown, a licensed aesthetician for the Mount Nittany Physician Group. Cataracts, skin cancer on the eyelids, and tissue growth on the whites of the eyes can occur, as well as macular degeneration, which causes vision loss.

   Wearing sunglasses with UV protection is recommended. Choosing UV protection that blocks 99 to 100 percent of UV rays is the best option, in addition to finding shade often.

   “Taking these precautious measures during the summer should become a part of everyone’s daily routines,” Brown says. “The combination approach is my recommendation. Limit hours outside, seek shade when it’s possible, wear sun-protective clothing, and use sunscreen regularly.”

 

Ways to protect your skin this summer

  • • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen — one that says it has UVA and UVB protection.
  • • Use a sunscreen of an SPF of at least 30, and avoid tanning oils.
  • • Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after you are in water or perspire.
  • • Wear wide-brimmed hats and wear sun-protective clothing.
  • • Avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • • Seek shade whenever possible.
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