Summer is upon us (finally!), and after enduring what was arguably the coldest winter ever, dreams of swimming in the warm ocean, lying around the sun-drenched white sand, and having one (or ten) of those drinks with the little umbrellas can now become a reality. But all of that comes with a minor little snag– the sun. Spoiler alert: Everything from skin cancer to aging complexions can be blamed on that sneaky little star.
“The skin is the largest organ in the body,” says Board Certified, La Jolla Dermatologist Dr. Susan Stuart. “But, unlike others, it is subjected to the harmful effects of UV exposure.”
Don’t think that just because you can’t see the sun doesn’t mean you’re safe; sun damage can occur even on cloudy days. “UV rays easily penetrate the atmosphere under any weather condition, making the unsuspected and unprotected fall victim to the sun’s damage,” Dr. Stuart adds.
UV rays (UVR) come in two basic variations—UVA and UVB. (Think UVA for aging, and UVB for burning). Wrinkles, sagging, leathering, and discoloration are all UV ray-related. Worse, each year more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the US, over 90 percent of which are caused by the sun. And the damage is cumulative. “Even a single sunburn increases your chance of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer; suffering five or more sunburns doubles your lifetime risk.”
Dr. Stuart contends that a tan is never safe, whether you acquire it on the beach or in a salon. “Although tanning salon operators may say that their new bulbs are safe and that some UV exposure is necessary for vitamin D, neither statement is true.” In fact, people who use tanning beds are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. Even occasional sunbed use almost triples your chances of developing melanoma.
“The new high-pressure sunlamps actually emit UVR doses as much as 12 times that of the sun,” Dr. Stuart cautions. “When unprotected skin is overexposed to UVR, DNA is damaged; a tan is the skin’s attempt to prevent further damage by creating a wall of darker pigment.” And damage that has already occurred can lead to changes (mutations) in skin cell DNA. “In general, it is far better to obtain vitamin D through D-rich foods, such as salmon, fortified milk or orange juice, and/or dietary supplements.”
So, whenever you venture out in the sun, be smart about it by following Dr. Stuart’s seven simple rules:
1. Seek the shade whenever possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
2. Don’t burn. When you see your skin redden, take cover.
3. Avoid tanning and UV Booths.
4. Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day.
5. Cover up with clothing including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
6. Be sure to protect your kids, too. Just one severe burn in childhood doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life.
7. After two hours in the sun, sunscreen loses effectiveness, so it’s vital to reapply. Furthermore, no sunscreen is completely waterproof, so if you’ve been swimming or exercising heavily, reapply immediately.
Happily, today more and more companies are getting onboard and offering protection in very cool ways. The following are a few effective examples:
ACUVUE® OASYS® Brand Contact Lenses, www.acuvue.com
Since harmful UV rays can even damage the delicate retina of the eye, now contact lens wearers can be protected, as well. The ACUVUE® OASYS® Brand Contact Lenses provide the highest level of UV protection, blocking approximately 96 percent of UVA rays and greater than 99 percent of UVB rays that reach the cornea.
Coppertone My UV Alert App, Free, www.coppertone.com/
Forget how long you’ve been in the sun? The free Coppertone My UV Alert App for iPhone, iPad, and Android, allows you to set up a sunscreen profile for each of your family members so you know what SPF everyone needs to apply every time you go to the poor or beach. The app also gives you access to the UV Index, lets you set up sunscreen application reminders, and offers coupons for Coppertone sun-care products.
The Ultraviolet (UV) Index App, Free, http://www.epa.gov/enviro/mobile/
Another valuable tool is The Ultraviolet (UV) Index. This provides a daily and hourly forecast of the UV radiation levels from the sun on a 1 – 11+ scale. Download the free EPA SunWise UV Index app onto your smartphone. Your local Ultraviolet (UV) Index forecast is courtesy the National Weather Service.
Coolibar Clothing and Accessories, http://www.coolibar.com/
Clothing can be your most effective form of sun protection. Choose densely woven and bright- or dark-colored fabrics rather than, say, a thin white T-shirt that provides Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of only about 5. This means that the shirt lets in about 1/5 of the sun’s rays. (In contrast, blue jeans have a UPF of approximately 1700). For extra safety, seek specially designed clothes that come with a UPF label; a UPF rating of 30 and up indicates substantial protection. Coolibar manufactures and markets a full range of quality sun protection products including SPF clothing, sun hats, swimwear, sunglasses, umbrellas, and sunscreens.
Sun Screen Bands, 6 bands pack $5, www.sunscreenbands.com
Under the rubric of a good defense is the best offense, waterproof Sunscreen Bands remind you to reapply sunscreen and when you should cover up or get out of the sun for the day. The bands monitor UVA and UVB exposure and change color when your sunscreen loses its strength and when you have reached your maximum recommended daily exposure. Simply put sunscreen on the band every time it is applied or reapplied and it adjusts to the level of protection you are using. There is no time element, as only the amount of exposure is accounted for. For example, if you are at the beach in the middle of the day, wearing SPF 15, the band will change colors faster than in an overcast day, early in the morning, wearing SPF 50.
“Finally,” concludes Dr. Stuart, “look for sunscreens that offer ‘broad spectrum’ or ‘UVA/ UVB’ protection, and make sure they have one or more of these UVA-filtering ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, stabilized avobenzone, or ecamsule (a/k/a MexorylTM). And use them every day, in every kind of weather.”
So if you haven’t been properly protecting your skin until now, it’s definitely time to slather up, because as the Beatles so aptly put it, “here comes the sun!”