Protecting your skin from sun damage

HopenewcrossarmBy Dr. Hope Mitchell, FLT News Columnist-

In last month’s article we discussed skin cancer and the importance of having yearly skin exams. It is also very important to protect the skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that can cause cellular damage leading to premature aging and more importantly skin cancer.

One practical way to protect the skin is to avoid UV exposure. This means completely avoiding tanning beds and avoiding the sun when its rays are the strongest, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. by staying indoors or seeking shade. When in the sun, it is important to wear protective clothing including wide brimmed hats, long sleeves and sun glasses with UV protection. There are also athletic clothing lines available with built in SPF to give an added layer of protection.

If sun exposure cannot be avoided, sunscreen can be an effective method of blocking the sun’s UV rays. Use a sunblock with at least an SPF of 30, as this will block around 97 percent of the sun’s UV rays. It should be a broad spectrum sunscreen so that the skin is protected from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be applied at least 15-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapplied at least every two hours. It may need to be applied even more often while swimming or perspiring.

Sunscreen should be worn daily on sun-exposed areas of skin to protect against UV rays that can be absorbed even through clouds and glass windows. Certain cosmetics or moisturizers may have a built in SPF, but it is important to make sure it is a broad spectrum SPF which may not be as common in cosmetics. Sunscreens have expiration dates that should be checked regularly, especially in the spring when old bottles may be pulled from the back of the closet. The efficacy of the sunscreen will decrease once it passes the expiration date and it will not be offering full protection.

A common question is whether or not it is possible to get a tan or get some “color” with an SPF of 30. The answer is that any tan or “color” that is darker than a person’s natural skin tone is technically a result of sun damage so proper skin protection should not allow it.

There are certain situations where even more caution must be used to protect the skin and eyes from UV damage — for example, if there is a reflection off of snow or water. Patients should also be mindful of the side effects of their medications as many of them, including antibiotics or certain topical medications, can actually increase sun sensitivity.

Children and adolescents should be taught the importance of sun protection as a greater percentage of sun exposure is acquired prior to age 18 than in adulthood. The damage done in early years is often the cause of skin cancer that develops much later in life.

If you would like to schedule a complete skin exam or have questions about any skin concerns, please feel free to call Mitchell Dermatology at 419-872-HOPE (4673).