“Summertime and the livin’ is easy…” So goes the old song, and who would want to argue? Summer is a great time to be outside whether at the beach, in the mountains, or simply in your own neighborhood.
Because we’re outdoors more at this time of year we get greater exposure to the sun. While the sun feels good on our skin, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays also damage skin (a tan is actually visible evidence of skin damage, whereas sunburn signifies more significant skin injury). While some people are at higher risk for skin cancer than others (for example light-skinned individuals), everyone needs to take proper precautions to lessen skin damage from the sun.
- Avoid sun exposure when the sun’s rays are the strongest, at least between the hours of 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. Be especially cautious near reflective surfaces, bodies of water and at high altitudes.
- Make wearing sun block or sunscreen a morning ritual, just like brushing your teeth, since you never know when you might find yourself outdoors for an extended period of time. Many moisturizers and cosmetics advertise that they contain sunscreen but they may not be adequate to protect against damage from both UVA (penetrate deeper than UVB rays and increase the risk of skin cancer and premature signs of aging, such as wrinkles) and UVB rays (superficial, responsible for sunburns). It’s very important to use a product that protects against both UVA and UVB.
- I prefer sunscreens and sun blocks that contain titanium or zinc dioxide, as these agents have been shown to be both effective and safe. Ingredients like Avobenzone (Parsol 1789) and Mexoryl also appear to be helpful. Concerns have been raised about products that contain nanoparticles or oxybenzone. Until we have further data I think it best to avoid them.
- Apply sun block or sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day evenly over all exposed areas and at least 30 minutes before going outdoors (a higher SPF level may be reassuring but it only provides a very small amount of extra skin coverage). Reapply sunscreen frequently even if you’re indoors, on average every two hours.
- Another option – apply sunscreen or sun block to your face, then go outdoors for no more than 15-20 minutes and let the sun shine on your arms to generate a good daily dose of vitamin D. Head back indoors to apply sunscreen or sun block and cover up!
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sun-protective clothing (specialized products are available but you can get by using clothing with a tight weave).
- Because it’s believed that accumulated sun exposure during childhood is what largely determines skin health as an adult, make sure your kids follow the above guidelines, too.
A closing thought for your consideration - schedule a yearly “skin checkup” with your dermatologist to make sure no unusual looking spots have developed, especially in places you can’t easily see, like your back.
Your skin is actually the largest organ of the body. Keeping it healthy this summer (and all year long!) will go a long way towards keeping your entire body healthy.