How can I protect my skin in the summer?

This is the time of year for outdoor activities.  I know that I have really been looking forward to the warm summer sun throughout the long New England winter.  Whether it’s a backyard cook out, or a day at the lake or beach, the sun is a big part of summer activities.  As good as the sun might feel, it is definitely not kind to your skin.
What are the dangers of sun exposure?
  • Sunburn – You can actually sustain third degree burns from excessive sun exposure!  This can cause not only severe pain, but other complications similar to any severe burn.  Sunburns actually cause damage to the DNA of your skin.
  • Early aging – Sun exposure makes your skin age faster than normal.  This causes wrinkles, dark spots, as well as changes that make your skin tight or leathery.
  • Eye injuries – Ultraviolet rays from the sun can damage the tissue in your eyes.  You can get “sunburn” on the cornea of your eye.  Over time, this can lead to cataracts or macular degeneration, and even lead to blindness in some cases.  You can also develop cancer on the retina of your eye as a result of excessive sun exposure.
  • Skin cancer – There are several types of skin cancer.  Melanoma is a severe form of skin cancer that most people think of when they think of skin cancer.  Having 5 or more sunburns during your youth increases your lifetime risk of melanoma by 80%.  There are other forms of skin cancer that are not as severe, but much more common.  Some skin cancers, including melanoma, can spread to other parts of your body, and can even be a cause of death.
  • Lowered immune system – When you have sun damage to the skin, especially a sunburn, your immune system has to work to remove the damage and help create new cells.  This has been shown to cause decreased immune function in other parts of your body.
What can you do to protect yourself from the sun?
  • Seek shade – You may still get some UV ray exposure, but it will be significantly less than in direct sun.
  • Cover up with clothing – There are now several brands of sun protective clothing for children and adults, which can sometimes block up to 98% of UV rays.  A wide-brimmed hat is particularly helpful to protect your face, ears, and neck.
  • Wear Sunscreen – The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use sunscreen that offers the following.
    • Broad-spectrum coverage (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
    •  SPF 30 or higher
    •  Water resistant
  •  Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand – They can reflect the UV rays, which increase your risk of sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning beds – If you want your skin to look tan, try a self-tanning product, and remember to continue to use sunscreen with it.
How much sunscreen should you use?
  •  Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin.  Most people only use about 25-50% of what they should.
  •  Don’t forget to apply it to the tops of your feet, your neck, your ears, and the top of your head.
  • Apply sunscreen to dry skin, 15 minutes before going outdoors.
  • To protect your lips, apply a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen (SPF 30 or higher).
  • When outdoors, reapply sunscreen approximately every 2 hours, or after swimming or sweating.
For more information about protecting your skin from the sun, check out this link to sunscreen FAQs: https://www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs

 

If you have any more questions just Ask Hanna, our health advisors are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor
Image: ©Shutterstock / TierneyMJi

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