Sun Protection: The Burning Truth

Paul M. Graham, D.O.

Whether you love spending time outdoors or you’re just taking Fido on a brief walk, sun protection should be a very important part of your daily routine. Everyone is subject to the damaging effects of UV exposure, regardless of your race or ethnicity.  Over 1 million people in the United States are diagnosed with skin cancer each year despite sun protection recommendations.  Although the incidence of skin cancer is largely preventable through proper sunscreen application, further precautions should be taken to protect from UV exposure.  In this article, we will outline specific precautionary measures that offer adequate sun protection and prolong the integrity and youthfulness of your skin year-around.

When sunlight makes contact with the skin, skin cells absorb most of the harmful UVA/UVB rays.  In turn, this absorption triggers damage to the cellular DNA, thus initiating a process that could potentially lead to the development of cancer.  The most common initial response to UV exposure is a sunburn.  A sunburn indicates that the skin has been damaged, causing the body to undergo a natural process of repair.  As a consequence, the skin darkens to protect from further damage caused by the sun’s UV rays.

UV damage is largely avoidable when the appropriate precautions are taken.  Studies have demonstrated that four out of five cases of skin cancer can prevented with proper sun protection techniques.  The following are specific recommendations to help limit UV exposure.

  •      Limit time outdoors during peak sunlight hours

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., the sun’s UV rays are the strongest

      Seek shade whenever possible

During periods when UV rays are most intense, seek shade under an umbrella, canopy, or nearby tree.

      Apply adequate sunscreen

UV rays can damage skin in as little as 15 minutes.  The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen.  Remember the “30-20-2-1” rule in order to apply sunscreen correctly.

  • 30 – Minimum SPF
  • 20 – How many minutes you should apply sunscreen prior to sun exposure
  • 2 – How many hours you can go before reapplying if not swimming or sweating
  • 1 – How many ounces of sunscreen you need to cover your body (Approximately 1 shot glass)
  • Wear protective clothing

Loose fitting long sleeve shirts and long pants offer the most sun protection, but are sometimes impractical.  At minimum, wear a T-shirt combined with other methods of sun protection such as a wide brimmed hat and 100% UV protected sunglasses

      Avoid sunlamps and tanning beds

Until recently, choosing the right sunscreen for the right occasion had the potential to be very confusing.  The FDA has just announced new changes in hopes to eliminate this confusion.  Misleading terms such as “waterproof and sweat proof’ are now being replaced with “water resistant” and ‘sweat resistant”.  Sunscreen bottles will now display the length of time complete protection lasts before re-application is necessary.   Sunscreens that are lower than SPF 15 will now display a warning label indicating specifically that it will not be effective at preventing skin cancer or aging.  The FDA hopes these changes will prompt greater awareness and understanding on how to protect your skin from the damaging UV rays and eventually lead to a decrease in the incidence of skin cancer.

Sun protection practices should begin in newborns and continue throughout life, particularly in those individuals with fair skin and light colored eyes.  It has been estimated that 23% of a child’s lifetime exposure will occur prior to the age of 18.  Parents should teach proper sun protection habits early and make them a daily routine in their children’s lives.

Despite it’s effectiveness, sunscreen does not entirely eliminate the risk associated with sun damage and skin cancer.  To completely protect yourself from the damaging effects of UV radiation, remember to limit your time in the sun during peak hours, seek out shade, wear protective clothing, and always apply an adequate amount of sunscreen.  Make sure to conduct self-skin exams on a monthly basis and if any concerns arise, schedule an appointment with your dermatologist. I highly recommended everyone to see a dermatologist at least once a year as a preventative measure for the development of skin cancer. Now get outside and enjoy the weather responsibly!

My next blog will focus on the specifics of sunscreen including my top picks for aging and skin cancer prevention. Until next time.

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Please note, our medical disclaimer applies to all information, images, recommendations, and comments published on this page.

Published by Dr. Paul M. Graham

Paul M. Graham, D.O. (Founder/Editor-in-chief) founded Dimensional Dermatology in May 2016 with the vision to provide concise, easy to read, up-to-date dermatology and aesthetic medicine information to patients, medical staff, providers, and the general public. Dr. Graham is currently completing his training as a cosmetic dermatologic surgery fellow in Virginia Beach, Virginia at the McDaniel Laser and Cosmetic Center. He completed his dermatology training at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and was a clinical instructor at Michigan State University. He received his B.S. degree as Summa Cum Laude at Old Dominion University, his D.O. degree as Cum Laude at Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, completed his internship at Largo Medical Center in Largo, Florida as chief intern, and completed his dermatology residency training at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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