Here comes the sun
Local experts give their advice for keeping skin safe this summer.
Sunscreen is the first line of defense when it comes to protecting your skin from the sun. Erin Lucie, clinical director for Oklahoma MD Medical Spa, suggests teenagers use oil-free, matte-finish SPF products like OBAGI Medical Sun Shield. Lucie also stresses hydration and providing protection against UVB and UVA radiation plus infrared defense to combat stress to the skin.
Summertime means sun, shorts, sandals, bathing suits and bronzed skin. But the carefree days of summer also can be dangerous. Along with shorter hemlines comes the increased chance of sunburns, which can cause aging skin and skin cancer.
Fortunately, with a little bit of planning, fun in the sun is still possible.
“What people don’t realize is, it’s never too late to begin protecting your skin from the sun,” says Dr. Ashwini K. Vaidya of Tulsa Dermatology Clinic. “While a lot of the damage has been done when a person is young, it’s never too late to help do something about it.”
Vaidya also states that starting to wear sunscreen on a daily basis can help repair and possibly reverse some of the sun damage that has occurred.
However, the experts all agree on one thing: The earlier skin protection begins, the better, as most skin cancer in adults is from the sun exposure they had in their first 20 years.
It is recommended for babies to be kept out of the sun until at least 6 months of age.
“Their skin can be too sensitive for sunscreen, and their bodies can’t create enough pigment in their skin or eyes to protect themselves,” says Erin Lucie, clinical director of Oklahoma MD Medical Spa. “Pigment acts like tiny little umbrellas hovering over the cells’ DNA that prevents the UV rays from damaging the skin.”
Lucie also suggests hats and lightweight clothing for babies and a sunshade in the car to protect babies in their car seats.
“Don’t forget UV rays can go through window glass, so it is essential to keep them protected even while in the car,” Lucie says.
After 6 months old, it is safe for children to wear a tear-free sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher.
“You should also apply the sunscreen at least 20 minutes before your child goes outdoors,” Vaidya says, also recommending reapplying sunscreen every two hours when children are out in the sun. “Toddlers can begin to wear UV-protected glasses and clothing, too.”
Teenagers should start wearing a daily hydrator with SPF 30, according to Lucie.
“Teenagers’ skin becomes more sensitive, so adding the hydration element is important,” she says. “If they have oily, acne-prone skin, there are oil-free, matte-finish SPF 30 products available, as well.”
The teenage and young adult years are the most crucial times to protect the skin.
“In general, the younger you are, the more damage can occur to your skin,” says Dr. Larry Altshuler of Cancer Treatment Centers of America, “and the greater the risk for developing skin cancer because of the damage that has been done to the DNA.”
Altshuler stresses the importance of never using a tanning bed.
“People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent,” he says.
Young to middle-aged adults should first apply a Vitamin C serum and then a daily hydrating sunscreen with SPF 30.
“The topical Vitamin C serum is proven to aid in phototoxic damage,” Lucie says. “However, not all Vitamin C and sunscreen products are made the same, so always look for those approved by the Skin Cancer Foundation.”
Lucie also recommends that older adults begin using a sunscreen with pigment controllers.
“Look for ingredients like hydroquinone or arbutin to prevent and correct damage,” Lucie says. “And seniors over the age of 70 definitely need to use an SPF with a hydrator.”
Currently, there are no formal recommendations for routine skin checks.
“Even though the most current recommendations from the USPSTF (U. S. Preventative Services Task Force) state there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against annual screenings in adults without a history of skin cancer in the family,” Altshuler says. “Dermatologists and their organizations recommend starting screening even as a young child, especially if they have higher risk factors.”
“If you have a history of excessive sun exposure, multiple blistering sunburns, relatives with melanoma or a history of numerous atypical moles, you need to be screened by a dermatologist,” she says, suggesting every 6-12 months depending on findings during an examination.
“I look for the ugly duckling: a spot that has been growing and changing over time and does not look like all the other spots,” Lucie says. “Those are the ones that need to be checked out immediately.”
Lucie also says technology can help.
“There are apps for your phone that will take a photo of a mole, analyze it and track the changes over time,” she says. SkinVision and MySkinPal are popular apps.
Although everyone who has been overexposed to the sun is at risk for skin cancer, some individuals have a higher risk than others.
“People with a lighter skin color (fair complexion, blond or red hair, blue or green eyes), and who freckle or redden easily have a high risk factor,” Altshuler says. “Also, people with certain types and a large number of moles pose a higher risk.”
Even without risk factors, anyone who gets sunburned is in potential danger.
“Getting a sunburn just once every two years triples the risk of getting skin cancer,” Altshuler says.
However, sometimes sunburns still occur, even when taking precautions. So, what do you do when that happens?
“You need to keep your body cool,” Lucie says. “Take a cool shower or bath and moisturize with an aloe vera lotion. But do not apply an oil or anything thick and greasy because the skin needs to breathe.”
Vaidya recommends staying hydrated.
“Hydration is very important, especially in children, as the burn ‘draws’ fluid from the body to the skin,” she says. “Taking a few doses of ibuprofen over the next 48 hours will help reduce the redness and swelling. However, if there are fever, chills or severe blisters you should seek medical help.”
The essentials to practicing good skin health in the summer apply across the board.
“It is important to protect your skin at all ages,” Vaidya says. “Wear sunscreen daily, avoid sun exposure between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. when the UV rays are the most harmful. Reapply every two hours, wear loose clothing and a hat, and seek shade whenever possible.”