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Summer Skin Care

Your guide to safe sun

By Bri Williams, RN, BSN, Refined Aesthetics Med Spa, pllc

With the arrival of summer, many of us are making plans to get the most out of the nice weather. And while summer is a great time to enjoy the outdoors, there are steps you should take to ensure you are safe in the sun.

Many of us already know that we need to be wearing sunscreen every day, and this is especially important in the sunny summer months. Unprotected sun exposure increases your risk for skin cancer and premature aging. When the skin is unprotected from ultraviolet radiation (UVR), our skin cells are damaged. Skin cancers (most commonly melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas) and aging occur when this damage affects the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth. One easy way to protect our skin and decrease our risk is to wear sunscreen.

What sunscreen do I choose?

With dozens of sunscreen choices on the shelf, it can be difficult to know what to look for in a sunscreen. All sunscreens protect against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburns and skin cancers, but UVA rays also contribute to skin cancers and premature aging. Having protection from both is crucial. When selecting a sunscreen, be sure it is labeled “broad spectrum,” meaning it blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The higher the SPF the more protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. However, there is only a small increase in protection as you go higher. For example, SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of UVB rays, while SPF 30 filters 97 percent and SPF 100 filters 99 percent.

Even more important than the strength of the sunscreen is how often you reapply it. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least once every two hours and more frequently after swimming, sweating or towel drying. Don’t forget to apply it on your ears, tops of your feet, neck, chest and scalp. These areas are often overlooked and need protection. Also, a chapstick with SPF is important to protect your lips.

Is there more I can be doing?

Beyond wearing (and reapplying) sunscreen daily, there are additional steps you can take to further decrease your risk of skin cancer and premature aging. Look for shade to limit your direct exposure to the sun between the hours of 10am to 4pm, when UV rays are the strongest. Keep your sunroof closed in your car, find a shady tree at the beach or pack an umbrella to make shade, and choose lightweight clothing and wide-brimmed hats to cover as much skin as possible. Be sure to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. Lastly, avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. A tan today is not worth skin cancer tomorrow. There are a lot of safe self-tanner products that can give a beautiful faux glow.

Do I need to change my skin-care routine?

The short answer, maybe. There are several things to consider when transitioning from the cold winter to the hot summer. During the winter months, many people experience drier skin due to the lack of moisture in the air outside, and the heat sources indoors that dry out the air. You may have added a heavier moisturizer to combat the dryness, and during the summer months, you more than likely can use a light hydrator versus a heavy moisturizer.

Another thing to consider is that certain products in your skin-care routine or medications you take can cause photosensitivity.

What is photosensitivity?

Photosensitivity is an extreme sensitivity to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and other light sources. UV rays come directly from the sun, but also bounce off water, snow and even sand, causing indirect exposure from the elements around you. Symptoms of photosensitivity vary from mild to severe. The most common symptom is a skin rash or sunburn. In some cases, a sunburn can be so severe that blistering or peeling can occur. Reactions vary, depending on length of exposure and what is in and on your body.

What causes photosensitivity?

There are many causes of photosensitivity. Medications such as certain antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy drugs and oral acne medications can cause photosensitivity. If you are given a prescription with a warning of photosensitivity or “to limit your sun exposure,” take it seriously. This means the medication has been known to cause a reaction to UV rays.

It is also important to pay attention to ingredients in your skin-care products that may cause sensitivity to the sun. Tretinoins (or retinoids like Retin-A), Alpha Hydroxy Acids (glycolic acid), Beta Hydroxy Acids (salicylic acid) and Benzoyl Peroxide cause a thinning of the outermost layers of the skin and increase sensitivity. While these ingredients are amazing for treating acne and signs of aging (fine lines and dark spots), they cause more damage with prolonged sun exposure.

How do we avoid photosensitivity?

The best way to prevent symptoms of photosensitivity is to limit the amount of time you spend in the sun. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the outdoors, but be sure to follow our guidelines above. Always wear sunscreen, reapply often, find shade when possible, and wear protective clothing and sunglasses.

If you are a sun lover and know you will be exposed regularly, you may consider putting certain skin-care products on the back shelf for the summer. After all, getting a sunburn is counterproductive for anti-aging. The fall is a great time to add these products back into your routine when the sun is much less intense. Remember, don’t discontinue medications without talking to your health-care provider first.

With proper skin protection there is no reason you can’t enjoy all that summer has to offer. Check the ingredients on your skin-care products to identify any ingredients that will make you more susceptible to sun damage. Look at your prescription bottles to see if any of your medications cause photosensitivity, and lastly, wear your sunscreen.

Rain or shine, you need to protect your skin. The sun’s out; go enjoy it!

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