Sun exposure can be harmful to your skin, but it doesnít have to be
By Nate Brought, D.O.
With the much-anticipated warmer weather and sunnier days, we all can’t wait to get outside. And yes, I am going to caution you about overexposure to the sun and the possible damage it can do to your skin if you aren’t careful.
But I will also tell you that the sun isn’t all bad.
There are some definite benefits to being outside. It’s healthy, and being in the sun is crucial for Vitamin D absorption. But all we need is 10 to 20 minutes of sun exposure two to three times a week to get the Vitamin D we need. Fair-skinned people may require a little less while those with a darker complexion may require a little more exposure to reap the same benefits.
When you think of sun damage, most people immediately think of skin cancer, which is a problem and something to be aware of. But what many people don’t think about as easily is the premature aging we get from overexposure.
Exposure to UV radiation causes pre-cancerous lesions and is the No. 1 cause of skin cancer. In addition to that, it also affects the elasticity and integrity of the skin.
WHAT DOES DAMAGE LOOK LIKE?
The simplest way I can tell anyone to look for damage is to pay attention to your skin. If you see any mole, lesion, or discoloration that has changed, that’s when you should get it checked out. If you have a mole that has been there for years and hasn’t changed, that’s not worrisome. If a lesion is new or changes size, shape, color or characteristic (such as itching, bleeding, etc), get it checked out.
With skin cancer, you play a major role in preventing it in the first place. Prevention and early diagnosis are the keys. With early diagnosis, it is most often easily treatable.
Don’t be afraid to have a questionable spot looked at as soon as you notice it. It is much easier to take off a small lesion if necessary. If you ignore it, it may increase in size and you then go from a potentially simple office procedure to something that may require more significant reconstructive surgery.
I am seeing more and more skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions, but the good news is that skin cancer isn’t necessarily becoming more prevalent. The significant increase in numbers is more likely due to increased awareness. Skin cancer has always been there, but now with prevention and broader awareness, it is diagnosed earlier so morbidity and mortality will decrease as a result.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE TO START
Even if you are of the generation that used to sunbathe while coated in baby oil, butter, or Crisco, (yes, I’ve heard them all) don’t let that stop you from beginning a good skin care regimen now. I see people in their 20s who already have a significant amount of sun damage, but it’s like smoking; as soon as you change your habits, your risk for adverse effects decreases.
Sun damage is additive, so the more exposure you get, the worse it is. The accumulation of sun exposure puts you at higher risk. The day you start protecting your skin, you lessen your risk of cancers and further premature aging.
DIFFERENT RAYS, PERSISTENT RISK
The big problem with the younger generation right now is tanning beds. Kids in their teens are getting ready for their summer trips or proms and they want to be tan, so they use a tanning bed, which we were told wasn’t dangerous when they first became popular. But now we are finding they certainly are. They emit UVA radiation, which is damaging to skin integrity and likely accelerates the skin cancer process – just in a different way than UVB, which we always knew was the bad guy.
UVB radiation is what causes the “sunburn” you see on the top layer of your skin. UVA radiation, which is more prominent in tanning beds, penetrates deeper into the skin, and is the main contributor to decreased skin elasticity and premature aging.
SPF IS YOUR BFF
I am not going to tell you to stay under a tent all summer and wear a turtleneck at the beach. First, you won’t do it, and second, it isn’t necessary. Like many things, sun exposure in moderation is good. So what I do recommend is anytime you are in the sun, use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. You want to make sure it protects against UVA and UVB radiation.
Before we knew that UVA was harmful as well, sunscreens most often only had the chemical barrier to protect you from the UVB radiation. But they need to have a physical barrier as well; although it doesn’t necessarily need to be a total white out like the zinc oxide of the old days. There are sunscreens now that are clear or tinted skin color so you don’t see that physical barrier. Reapply every two to three hours while exposed to the sun and you should be well protected.
One thing to keep in mind if you are going to the Carribean or a tropical place this summer that is closer to the equator, the sun’s rays are more direct and its effects will be more apparent sooner than they are in a climate such as we have here in Tennessee.
Nate Brought, D.O., is a board-certified plastic surgeon and is a credentialed physician with Williamson Medical Center. His office can be reached at 615-791-9090.
New FDA Regulations on SPF
Under new FDA regulations, the following changes will be visible on sunscreen products:
- Sunscreen products that protect against all types of sun-induced skin damage will be labeled "Broad Spectrum" and “SPF 15” (or higher) on the front.
- Water resistance on the product's front label must tell how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection. Two times will be permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.
- Manufacturers cannot make claims that sunscreens are “waterproof” or “sweatproof” or identify their products as “sunblocks.”
- Sunscreens cannot claim protection immediately on application or for more than two hours without reapplication, unless they submit data and get approval from FDA.
Posted on: 5/14/2013