Though the Texas sun beats down hard year-round, summer vacations and holiday weekends leave more of your skin exposed than usual. Though you may want to take a break from minding serious issues like your health while you play under the sun at the park or pool, getting into the habit of taking care of your skin now will make you happier and healthier in years to come.
The expert dermatologists at Specialists in Dermatology in The Woodlands and Houston, Texas, see first-hand what happens if you don’t protect your skin from the summer sun. According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US, and the number of cases increases each decade.
But skin cancer isn’t the only way the sun can damage your skin. The sun is responsible for other wanted changes to your skin, including:
- Age spots, liver spots
- Sagging, loose skin
- Visible veins (spider veins)
- Blotchy complexion
Taking steps to prevent skin cancer also prevents the effects of photo-aging. Before you step into the sun this summer, our dermatologists recommend you do the following:
Ask yourself “What SPF should I use?”
Whenever you step outside, drive, or work near a sunny window, wear sunscreen so you can reduce your risk for skin cancer and other sun-related skin conditions. You should apply your sunscreen at least 30 minutes before sun exposure. But with so many different kinds of sunscreens with a huge range sun-protection factors (SPF), how do you choose the right one?
First, you want a sunscreen that’s labeled “broad spectrum,” which means it protects against both kinds of ultraviolet (UV) rays — UVA and UVB. Choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30, which means you’re protected from burning about 30 times longer than if you weren’t wearing sunscreen.
An SPF of 30 filters out about 97% of the sun’s rays. An SPF of 50 filters about 98% of the sun’s rays. The difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 may not seem like a lot, until you think about how many rays are getting through: With SPF 30, it’s 3% of rays, and with SPF 50, it’s 2% of rays — a difference of 50%.
However, sometimes when you wear a higher SPF, you overestimate how much protection you’re getting. Whether you wear SPF 30 or 50, you still have to re-apply every two hours, or after each time you swim or sweat. Water-resistant sunscreens keep you safer in the water, but still must be reapplied after a dip.
Be sure you use enough sunscreen, too. To cover your entire body for one application, you should think of filling a shot glass with sunscreen and then slathering it all over your face and body. Each time you reapply, you use another “shot glass” worth.
Sunscreens protect your skin either by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) rays, as in a chemical sunscreen, or by reflecting them off your skin, as do physical sunscreens, such as those with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Some sunscreens have both chemical and physical properties.
You can increase the efficacy of your sunscreen by layering it with other skin products that have an SPF of 30 or more. Some brands of face creams, lotions, and makeup are rated with an SPF, too. Don’t skip sunscreen on cloudy days; the clouds reflect the sun’s rays, which can easily burn you if you’re not protected.
Layer for summer sun, too
You’re probably familiar with the concept of layering for cool or cold-weather days. When the sun shines bright and the weather’s hot, you should layer, too.
Wear a lightweight shirt, jacket, or cover up to protect your shoulders. Choose a broad-brimmed hat to keep the sun directly off your face, ears, and the back of your neck.
Protect your eyes with sunglasses. Make sure your sunglasses screen out 100% of UVA and UVB rays.
Memorize your ABCDEs
Keep track of your moles and be aware of changes that suggest they’re evolving to skin cancer. Any of the ABCDE signs should be checked at Specialists in Dermatology:
A — Asymmetry
B — ragged Borders
C — dark, red, or multiple Colors
D — Diameter larger than a pencil eraser
E — Evolving in shape, color, size, or elevation
Examine your skin every month for any new blisters or lesions, especially those that ooze, bleed, or don’t heal. Get an in-depth skin-cancer screening every year at Specialists in Dermatology.
Darker skin isn’t a “pass”
If you have a lot of melanin in your skin, you may be tempted to take it easy on the sunscreen. Though your skin may not be as susceptible to sunburn and wrinkling as fair skin, the sun causes other types of damage in dark skin, including sagging and skin cancer.
In fact, African-American women and men are more likely to be diagnosed with malignant melanoma than any other ethnic group. They also have a lower survival rate.
Almost 63% of African Americans who were surveyed said they never use sunscreen. If you have dark skin, be sure you wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply regularly.
Neither is a suntan
Despite popular lore, a suntan doesn’t protect your skin from the sun’s rays. Tanned skin is actually a sign of sun damage.
Use an umbrella while at a beach, pool, or park. Be sure to re-apply sunscreen after swimming, sweating, or every two hours.
If you want to look suntanned but keep your skin safe, go for a spray tan. Never use a tanning bed; they dramatically increase your risk for skin cancer.
To find out more about how to keep your skin safe, set up a skin-cancer screening, or get treatments that reverse sun damage, contact us today by phone or online form.