Recently social media has been filled with trending “Sunburn Art” photos – people strategically applying sunscreen in extravagant patterns then getting intensely sunburned to display the masterpiece. Although it may be tempting to show off artistic talents for the Instagram likes and retweets, sunburns can have long term consequences on your skin health, including risk for skin cancer and premature aging. As you enjoy the outdoors this summer here are a few tips for sunscreen use:
1. What kind of sunscreen should I buy? Do I really need the SPF 100+? The best option is to find one that you are willing to wear regularly! The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that sunscreen should be broad spectrum with protection against both UVA and UVB. This should be at least SPF 30 and water resistant. Many dermatologists recommend a higher SPF, even SPF 100. This is due to recent research showing that many people do not apply sunscreen as thick as how the SPF number was established. Often, people use as little as 25-50%! Using a higher SPF may partially compensate for putting on too little. Using a moisturizer containing sunscreen on exposed skin can be nice for daily use when you know you won’t have extended time outside. Usually the SPF in makeup is an added bonus but is not applied thick enough to rely on.
2. What is the safest way to apply sunscreen? It is best to apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outdoors. It takes this long to fully absorb. Make sure to apply it to all exposed skin, getting help for hard to reach places like the middle of the back. To get the true SPF value on the bottle, sunscreen amount should be based on the “teaspoon rule” – 1 teaspoon to the face/neck/scalp, 1 teaspoon for each arm, 1 teaspoon to the chest and abdomen, 1 teaspoon to the back, and 2 teaspoons for each leg. Please be sure to re-apply every two hours while outside because the sunscreen will lose effectiveness over time. The re-application rule is also important after swimming or heavy sweating. Many people who wore sunscreen at the beginning of long day outside get burned because of not reapplying. Keep up the good work!
3. But I hate the feel and smell of sunscreen. What are my alternatives? Physical blockage from the sun by clothing is an alternative to sunscreen. There are many marketplace options for UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing with UVA and UVB protection based on weave and thickness of the fabric. This should be taken with caution because bleaching or stretching the fabric can decrease the effectiveness. A broad brim hat can be helpful but this has been documented to only show SPF protection less than 10 (and a baseball hat has a SPF 1.5 for the nose at best!). These are best used in combination with other forms of sun protection.
4. Do the sunscreen recommendations change for my kids? Sun protection for kids and teenagers is super important! It is well documented that sun exposure in childhood is a risk factor for developing skin cancer as an adult. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is best to use other sun protective methods first (shade, sun protective clothing, hats) with broad spectrum sunscreen applied on skin that is still exposed. Sunscreens with UV blocking active ingredients titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are recommended for children under two years old.
If you are interested in having a skin cancer screening or would like to have a concerning lesion evaluated, our board-certified and experienced dermatologists at IHA Dermatology are always happy to help in any way that we can. Just call us at 734-667-DERM (3376) to schedule an appointment.
Question: I’m getting married this summer and want to be tan in my wedding photos and on my honeymoon. Will visiting the tanning salon a few times decrease my chances of getting a sunburn if I get a base tan? Also, aren’t tanning salons safer than laying out in the sun?
Answer: You’d be surprised how often these questions are asked! The short answer is NO and NO! Any type of tan is a sign of skin damage. A tan is the skin’s response to UV damage to the skin’s DNA. The skin darkens to prevent more damage, but your risk of skin cancer is already increased. There is no such thing as a “safe” or “healthy” tan.
Tanning beds deliver concentrated levels of UVA and UVB radiation, both of which cause cell damage that can lead to skin cancer. UVA radiation also penetrates deeper into the skin and causes irreversible skin aging like loss of elasticity, wrinkles and brown spots.
If you want to look tan in your wedding photos, try a sunless tanning cream or lotion. You can still get the glow you want without any of the skin damage.
As far as your honeymoon, take plenty of sunscreen with you. Look for a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum (blocking both UVA and UVB), and water-resistant. Be sure to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outdoors, and to reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours or immediately after getting wet (for example, after getting out of a pool). Forgetting to reapply sunscreen throughout the day is the one step that most people forget during vacation, and that leads to sunburns. Sunscreen only maintains its listed SPF for approximately 90 minutes, after which point the SPF starts to decrease and the sunscreen starts to lose its ability to block ultraviolet light. Shade and clothing can also help protect you from UV rays. Wear protective UV-blocking sunglasses, broad-brimmed hats and tightly-woven clothes, and seek shade when possible. Getting into the habit of protecting yourself from UV rays is as simple as the steps above and will allow you to enjoy the outdoors without damaging your skin.
With the snow we had in late April, it may be hard to believe, but warmer weather in Michigan is just around the corner! I’m sure we are all looking forward to putting away our heavy coats and snow boots, and enjoying some sunshine.
Those who already know me and the rest of our providers at IHA Dermatology may get a chuckle from that previous sentence, particularly the part about “enjoying sunshine,” given how often we stress to our patients the importance of protecting oneself from the sun and using sunscreen regularly.
As some of you may know, the month of May has been designated Skin Cancer Awareness Month, which makes it an ideal time to remind our family, friends, and colleagues to become educated about the importance of protecting our body’s largest organ, the skin.
To illustrate why this is such an important topic, I’ll share with you some facts and figures that are nicely summarized in websites for the American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation, where you can find even more information about this serious subject.
Did you know that skin cancer is by far the most commonly diagnosed cancer, with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year? In fact, more new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed yearly than the combined incidences of lung, breast, colon, and prostate cancer.
Of particular concern, about 140,000 cases of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed this year, and on average, one American dies from melanoma every hour. Unfortunately, the incidence of skin cancer is rising, particularly in younger people and in women, and melanoma is now the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30. The good news is that most skin cancers are preventable and the vast majority can be cured relatively easily, especially if they are diagnosed and treated early.
That is why we recommend that everyone seek protection from the sun by wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, and reapplying sunscreen at least every 2-3 hours. Staying shaded and wearing sun-protective clothing whenever possible is also very helpful. Tanning and using tanning beds are harmful, and if you are worried about cosmetics at all, be aware that tanning and excessive sun exposure ages your skin dramatically.
To aid in early detection of skin cancer, we also suggest that you become familiar with your own skin and check yourself about monthly for any spots, bumps, moles, or lesions that look different from the rest, or are changing in any concerning way, such as by bleeding, itching, not healing, or growing rapidly. For those with a lot of moles, you can use your handy cell phone cameras to take pictures and look at them monthly to see if any have changed.
In addition to performing self-skin examinations regularly, it is generally a good idea to have yearly full skin evaluations by your board-certified dermatologist or primary care physician.
If you are interested in having a skin cancer screening or would like to have a concerning lesion evaluated, our board-certified and experienced dermatologists at IHA Dermatology are always happy to help in any way that we can. Just call us at 734-667-DERM (3376) to schedule an appointment. On behalf of IHA and IHA Dermatology, we hope you have a warm, fun, and most importantly, healthy May and summer. Bring on the sunshine (and sunscreen)!