Protecting your skin from the sun is always important, but it is especially important during the summer months, says Dr. Emily Solow, general surgeon at UPMC Wellsboro.
The ultraviolet rays that come from the sun, some lamps and tanning beds are dangerous to skin. Exposure without proper precautions can lead to wrinkled skin, skin blemishes and skin damage, including skin cancer, which can be fatal.
Using sunscreen is one way that people can protect their skin from damage. Solow said people should use sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and it should be reapplied every two hours. If one is swimming or doing activities that involve water, they should use a waterproof sunscreen.
A moisturizer or some type of makeup that contains an SPF is a good start, but a sunscreen should still be used in addition to it. With that, wearing a lip balm — and one that contains SPF — is also recommended.
Beyond that, another way to help protect skin from sun damage is to wear a hat with a 2-3-inch brim all the way around.
“A lot of times guys wear a baseball cap and think they are protected from the sun, but it does leave a lot of exposure to the ears, neck, so that’s something they have to be mindful of,” Solow said.
If it’s possible, she also recommends staying out of direct sunlight between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as that’s when the sun’s rays are the strongest. If being in the sun during those hours is unavoidable, she recommends staying in a shady area and wearing long-sleeved clothing.
“There are now new clothing lines which actually have sun barriers built into them, so those are great because your skin breathes but you’re wearing nice long sleeves and pants,” Solow said. Darker clothes also tend to protect skin better than lighter colored clothes.
Sunscreen should still be worn even when it doesn’t appear to be sunny, as the UV rays can still do damage.
“It should be worn during cloudy days, rainy days, winter days, snow days,” Solow said. “You should really make it part of your daily routine.”
The sun rays are very powerful and can cause intense injuries to your skin, Solow said.
“A lot of times, when you’re younger, you think that nothing bad can ever happen and you think, ‘Oh, I look so much better with a sun tan.’ Later on in life, you find that all those years that you’ve enjoyed the sun as a youth really show up ... when you’re older,” Solow said. “You start getting sun spots and sun damage, and that includes melanoma-type lesions, discolored lesions, moles increase in size, freckles, wrinkles, especially around the eyes, lip and face. It can make you look much older.”
Skin cancer doesn’t necessarily care how old you are, she said, and skin cancer can be disfiguring and even deadly. Solow encourages everyone to do monthly skin checks, where they examine every part of their body, even parts that aren’t often exposed to sun, using the ABCDE’s of skin care:
- Asymmetry of lesion
- Border of the lesion for irregularities
- Color of lesion
- Diameter of lesion (Solow said they look for things that are larger than 6 mm, about the size of a pencil eraser)
- Evolving lesions that are looking different than ones around it.
People should call their healthcare provider if any suspicious lesions or moles appear.