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Have Fun in the Sun – But Protect Your Skin While Doing It

July 10, 2013

Amy Davis APRN 9436Amy Davis, MSN, APRN, is a nurse practitioner at Masonicare Primary Care Physicians in Wallingford, where she specializes in general medical dermatology for adults.  Ms. Davis treats a variety of skin disorders and performs biopsies and the excision/destruction of lesions.  With the summer here, Ms. Davis gives us some practical information on how we can best protect ourselves from skin damage caused by excessive sun exposure.

 Exposing your skin to the sun causes premature aging and leads to wrinkles, age spots, dilated blood vessels and changes in skin texture.  Unfortunately, it also increases your risk of developing skin cancer, and as we know, some forms of skin cancer can be deadly.  It’s vitally important that we protect our skin from harmful ultraviolet rays, and the use of a high-quality sunscreen plays a major role in providing that protection. 

What type of sunscreen should I use?

If you’ve looked around the sunscreen aisle at the supermarket or drugstore these days, you know that choosing a sunscreen can be overwhelming.  The shelves are loaded with gels, sticks, sprays and oil-free versions in addition to the traditional lotions we grew up with.   The best sunscreen to buy depends on you, because it must be one you’ll be willing to use every day.  Ask yourself the following questions to help you make the right choice:

  1. Are you active or involved in sports?  Gel based sunscreen is best.
  2. Do you have trouble with acne?  Oil free is for you.
  3. Is your skin dry?  Use creamy sunscreen.
  4. Is your skin sensitive or do you have rosacea? Look for sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
  5. Do you have a lot of body hair? The sprays and gels will be best for you.
  6. Looking for sunscreen for children?  Buy stick sunscreen – its waxy formula doesn’t drip into eyes.

Once I choose my sunscreen, what’s the best way to apply it?

Research shows that most people aren’t applying enough sunscreen to be adequately protected. Once you have a sunscreen that feels good on your skin, you want to make sure you’re applying it correctly. Be sure to apply it to dry skin 15 to 20 minutes before you go outside, putting it on all areas of your skin that will be exposed to the sun.  This includes face, ears, neck and hands – and don’t forget your scalp if you’re bald! 

How much sunscreen should I apply? 

You need a lot more than you think – a full shot glass worth for your entire body.  And you need to re-apply it at least every two hours, and especially after swimming or sweating.  Water resistant sunscreen can lose effectiveness after 40 minutes in the water.  Also, don’t forget to reapply the sunscreen after toweling off.

Do I need to use sunscreen when it’s cloudy?  Yes!  Even on a cloudy day, up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through the clouds.  Sand and snow also reflect ultraviolet light, and it passes through glass as well.

How does sunscreen work? 

Sunscreens with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide act as a physical sun block.  They reflect UV rays and tend not to irritate sensitive skin.  Sunscreens with avobenzone or oxybenzone absorb UV radiation and can be irritating for people with sensitive skin.  The SPF label stands for “sun protection factor” and refers to how well the sunscreen protects against UVB radiation.  Sunscreens labeled broad spectrum block both UVB and UVA rays.  A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 protects against about 93 percent of ultraviolet light and an SPF of 30 protects against 97 percent.  No SPF can block 100% of UV rays.    

What are some other ways I can protect my skin?   

Seek shade when possible and avoid direct sunlight when the sun’s rays are strongest –between 10 am and 4 pm.  Remember that ultraviolet light bounces off sand, water, pavement and decks, so umbrellas are a good idea, although they don’t provide full protection.  You should use sunscreen daily along with protective clothing, wide brimmed hats and sunglasses.  Clothing can absorb or reflect some ultraviolet light, but light colored and loose knit fabrics are not protective enough.  There are companies that have developed clothing lines with an ultraviolet protection factor; there are also laundry additives you can put in the washer with your clothes to increase their ultraviolet protection factor.

To sum it up, sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer and signs of premature aging.  Be sure to follow the guidelines below to decrease your risk:

  • Generously apply broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. 
  •  Re- apply every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. 
  • Wear protective clothing and a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses when possible. 
  • Avoid direct sun exposure when the sun’s rays are strongest – between 10 am and
    4 pm.

                                               Remember – play it safe.  You won’t be sorry!

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Masonicare Primary Care Physicians is conveniently located in Masonicare’s MedicalOfficeBuilding, just off Route 150 on the Masonicare campus in Wallingford. For office hours and additional information or to make an appointment with Ms. Davis, please call 203-265-0355.