Whether it’s enjoying a street festival or spending a day at the beach, we take full advantage of New York’s all-too-short summers. But if you’re not careful, you could get burned by all the outdoor fun. Now is the perfect time to brush up on your sun protection knowledge. Before you learn how to protect yourself, you need to know what you’re up against.
How does the sun damage skin?
UV radiation is responsible for skin damage. Short wavelength radiation (UVB rays) and long wavelength radiation (UVA rays) both stimulate the body to produce melanin, giving skin that bronzed glow. The fact is, a suntan is really the body’s attempt to protect itself from further damage. “Remember: There is no such thing as a safe tan,” says Vincent A. DeLeo, MD, Chairman, Department of Dermatology, St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Hospitals and Beth Israel Medical Center.
UVA rays penetrate the deeper layers of the skin and damage connective tissue and blood vessels. “UVA and UVB rays damage the DNA of our skin’s cells, leading to premature aging and an increased risk for skin cancer,” Dr. DeLeo says.
The good news is, there are several ways you can protect your skin from damaging UV rays. Dr. DeLeo offers these tips:
1. Avoid peak sun hours.
Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s UV rays are most intense – even when it’s overcast. The sun can be just as damaging, even if you can’t see it through the clouds. “People with a family history of skin cancer or fair skin should take extra precaution since they’re more prone to skin damage,” Dr. DeLeo says.
2. Apply (and reapply) sunscreen.
Applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher will protect against UVA and UVB rays. Apply one to two ounces of sunscreen over your entire body, including areas you might overlook like your ears, nose and neck, at least 30 minutes prior to exposure.
3. Review your medications.
Certain medications and over-the-counter drugs cause skin hypersensitivity to sunlight, including antibiotics; diuretics; certain cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes medications; and immune suppressing medications. Take extra precaution in the sun if you take these.
4. Go faux.
If you can’t give up that bronzed look, get a sunless tan. “Spray tans are wonderful; they make you look tan and they cause no damage like tanning beds do,” Dr. DeLeo says. Bronzers and self-tanners can provide head-to-toe color without harming the skin. Today’s formulas include sprays, lotions, foams and creams, and can be found in your local drug store. Whatever method you choose, stay away from tanning beds – they can triple the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer.
5. Know the signs of skin cancer.
Examine your skin each month for new skin growths or changes in existing moles, freckles, or bumps. Knowing the ABCDEs of skin cancer will help you recognize the signs and symptoms of the disease in its early stages, when it’s most treatable. Learn how to perform a self-skin exam here. If you notice anything abnormal, call your physician or dermatologist to schedule a thorough screening.
Get more advice on preventing sun damage and skin cancer when you make an appointment with a dermatologist. Find one near you by visiting chpnyc.org or calling 1-855-411-LWNY (5969).