Bingham Farms, MI


A dermatologist’s guide to sun protection

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The warm weather is finally here, so it’s time to go for a walk, play in the park, or spend time outside. While sunshine sustains life and is essential for our mental health, the sun’s powerful UV rays can harm your skin. In fact, UV radiation is the leading cause of skin cancer. It also leads to premature aging, wrinkles, and dark spots. Ultraviolet light also can worsen certain skin conditions such as melasma, rosacea, and lupus. That’s why it’s essential to protect your skin from ultraviolet damage. No single method of sun protection is perfect. However, following this guide will go a long way to achieving beautiful, healthy skin.

Cover Up! Before considering sunscreen, the first step to protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is wearing protective clothing. The great thing about clothing is that it does not wear off like sunscreen. The UV rating for clothing is called UPF (ultraviolet protection factor). A shirt with a 50 UPF rating blocks 98% of all UV rays. Newer, tightly woven fabrics with good breathability are widely available. UPF clothing can be purchased online through Amazon (e.g O’Neill UPF 50+ Short or Long Sleeve Rash Guard) or through websites such as Coolibar. It’s best to wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and cover up as much skin as possible. Bikers should also wear gloves to protect the backs of their hands.

Always wear a hat! We are amazed by how many patients refuse to wear hats. Bald men are particularly susceptible to developing skin cancer. In addition, we often find skin cancer in the scalp of women! Many of these women have chosen to either wear no hat or wear visors (which provide no protection to the part line). Visors are not advisable! Wide-brimmed hats will offer better protection than a baseball hat since the sides of the face are shaded. UPF hats can be purchased at many stores, including Costco.

Protect Your Eyes: Your eyes are also at risk from the sun’s UV rays. Wear sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes and keep them healthy.

Stay cool in the shade! Look for shady areas such as under an awning, an umbrella, or a tree whenever possible. Also, avoid peak hours between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun’s rays are most intense. Be aware that you are still susceptible to the reflection of UV off the pavement, water, and sand.

Wear your sunscreen! 

Sunscreen should be a part of everyone’s skincare routine. We recommend applying sunscreen daily, even if it is cloudy. Many of our patients experience their worst sunburns in the spring (when they are not thinking about sun protection) and on overcast days because they wrongfully believe UV rays will not penetrate. It is essential to apply sunscreen 15 minutes before going outside (to give it time to activate) and to reapply it every two hours, especially if you are swimming or sweating. 

  Use sunscreen with at least 30 SPF and a broad spectrum that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. If you are under very intense sun, then it is best to choose a sunscreen with at least 50 SPF. Remember to apply sunscreen liberally and slather it on. Most people do not use enough sunscreen, and therefore, they dilute the potency (e.g., the 50 SPF you sparingly apply provides only 15 SPF).

Many different preparations of sunscreen are available, including lotions, creams, sprays, sticks, and powders. It’s been said that the best sunscreen is the one you wear every day, so pick one that feels good on your skin. Also, do not forget to put sunscreen on your ears and on the back of your hands…and SPF lip balm, too!

Instructions for special populations:

Children: Do not apply sunscreen to babies under 6 months of age. Always use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the only active ingredients for children under 10.  Neutrogena Pure and Free baby™ is an excellent option.

Melasma: Always use a tinted sunscreen with iron oxide. Melasma can be worsened by visible light, and sunscreens that contain iron oxide are the only ones that block visible light. Elta MD Elements™ is an outstanding option.

Sensitive skin: Those with sensitive skin should look for sunscreens that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.

Swimmers: Wear UPF shirts if possible and wear water-resistant sunscreen.  Be sure to reapply afterward.

Golfers: Apply sunscreen before you get to the first tee. Always wear a wide-brimmed hat if possible. Stay under trees and in a golf cart. Consider wearing gloves to protect the back of your hands and using UPF arm sleeves. 

You are not necessarily safe behind glass. Because the left side of the face is exposed during driving, we typically find more sun damage, precancerous changes, and skin cancer. Unlike the front windshield, a car’s side windows and sunroof tend not to protect against UVA light. Therefore, it is important to cover with clothing and sunscreen.

By following these sun protection tips, you can enjoy the summer sun while keeping your skin safe and healthy. Protecting your skin from the sun’s harmful rays is essential for preventing skin cancer, premature aging, and other skin damage. Stay safe and have fun in the sun!