During the summer, we love to soak up the sun! The problem is we may be soaking up a lot of skin damage as well. Harmful rays pose a real threat to every skin tone under the sun. And so, CCOR sat down with URMC dermatologist Dr. Mara Weinstein Velez to get the skinny on summer skin safety.
THE DOWN SIDE OF THE SUN
The sun gives off two types of skin-damaging rays: UVA and UVB. UVB rays cause sunburns, which, in turn, can cause DNA damage to skin cells. Every sunburn, therefore, places you at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
UVA rays cause premature aging, wrinkles, and sun spots. Unlike UVB, UVA rays can penetrate through clouds and glass. So driving in your car, sitting by a sunny window, or spending time outside on a cloudy day can still cause UVA damage.
Unfortunately, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over their lifetime. Most skin cancers start in the top layer of skin and can be detected through regular self-skin checks. The good news is that most skin cancers are curable through surgery when they’re detected early.
KNOWING YOUR SKIN
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to check your skin regularly. Dermatologists recommend that everyone do their own self-skin checks once a month. Use a mirror and take pictures of your spots to keep track of them. See a dermatologist if anything looks suspicious, and keep in mind the ABCDEs of skin cancer:
Asymmetry: Does one side of the spot look different from the other?
Border: Does the spot have an irregular border?
Color: Has the color changed or is the spot multi-colored?
Diameter: Is the diameter of the spot bigger than a pencil eraser?
Evolving: Has the spot changed in any way?
Additionally, as adults in their 40s or 50s start getting regular preventative health screenings, it is recommended they add a yearly dermatology visit to the mix.
PROTECTING YOUR SKIN
Prevention is key, so here are Dr. Weinstein Velez’s summer skin tips:
Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen (one that covers both UVA and UVB) of 30 or higher anytime you’re in the sun.
Make sure your sunscreen is mineral-based. Mineral sunscreens are those that contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. These minerals are physical blockers and are more effective than chemical sunscreens. Read the label to check if your sunscreen is mineral-based.
Try to avoid being outdoors when the sun is strongest, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Wear a wide brimmed hat. Dermatologists detect many skin cancers or pre-cancers on the top of the ears and the back of the neck, places a baseball cap fails to cover. So, opt for a hat with a brim at least 2-3 inches wide.
For people spending a long time outside or who work outdoors, Dr. Weinstein Velez recommends UPF 50+ clothing. This type of clothing is designed to better protect the skin from harmful rays and can be found at any athletic store. Look for “UPF” on the label.
If, for some reason, you do get a burn, the skin needs to be hydrated in order to heal. Good hydration means drinking plenty of water and applying emollients to the skin, such as ceramide-based moisturizers and aloe vera.
If the sunburn is particularly painful or peeling, remember that you have a powerful ally in your dermatologist. “A lot of people, when they get sunburns, are afraid to go to the dermatologist, because they’re a little embarrassed,” says Dr. Weinstein Velez. “But we are there to help. It’s better to come in to get appropriate treatment and evaluation.”
DARKER SKIN TONES
Skin cancer and UV damage can happen to all skin colors. No one is exempt. While darker skin tones are less likely to develop sun-related skin cancer, it is more serious when they do. This is because skin cancer in dark skin tones is harder to detect and usually is not diagnosed until it is in a more advanced stage.
Additionally, people of color are prone to skin cancer in areas that are less exposed to the sun such as palms of the hands, soles of the feet, groin, mouth, and under the nails. Wearing sunscreen and regular skin checks, therefore, are important for everyone. The same prevention rules apply to every skin color.
WHAT ABOUT VITAMIN D?
Vitamin D deficiency is less dangerous and easier to correct than skin cancer, so avoid extra time in the sun. Your body can still get vitamin D from the sun even through your sunscreen, and those in need of a vitamin D boost should not get it from the sun. Instead, consult your doctor if you are concerned about vitamin D deficiency.
Follow these tips and your skin will thank you by staying healthy and beautiful for years to come. So, put on a wide-brimmed hat, grab the sunscreen, and enjoy the summer!