Sun Safe

Keri Lyman writer

By now, we all know that sun exposure can lead to premature aging or skin cancer. So when we hit the beach this summer, we’re planning to sit under an umbrella, use sunscreen, and wear hats and sunglasses, right? Well, not exactly. Even though most people are fairly well-educated about sun risks, many don’t use good judgment when it comes to taking care of their skin in the sun, especially during our all-too-short New England summers.

Certainly, there is a lot of concern about what sun exposure does to age skin, such as causing brown spots, wrinkles, and sagging — but skin cancer is a much larger concern. It is the most common type of cancer, and the National Cancer Institute says more than one million new cases of skin cancer are detected each year in the United States. In addition, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans is expected to develop some type of skin cancer in his or her lifetime.

Tracy Korby, owner of Forever Young in Wellesley, which offers a variety of aesthetic services, says we seem to be getting the message loud and clear when it comes to taking care of our kids. Witness all the young children on the beach in long-sleeved surfing suits and wide-brimmed hats to whom parents are constantly applying sunscreen. Ironically, however, in many cases, the parents are not applying any to themselves or are doing so too infrequently.

Wellesley-based dermatologist Dr. Pamela Norden says everyone who ventures out into the summer sun, especially for a day at the beach, should follow these basic rules: Try to seek shade, such as sitting under an umbrella, during the peak hours of sun from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm; cover up as much as you can with clothing, using a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses that protect against UV rays to reduce the risk of cataracts; and apply 30 SPF sunscreen all over your body.

As Norden, who practices at Krauss Dermatology, points out, the first defense is to avoid being in the sun during peak hours. If you must, then you need to use sunscreen correctly. According to Norden, new studies have shown that when used correctly, daily sunscreen use may decrease the lifetime risk of melanoma—the most deadly type of skin cancer—by 50 percent.

Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight, and the higher the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) the more protection it offers. Whether or not it is waterproof, it should be applied about 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside and then about every two hours or after swimming or exercise that makes you sweat. You should apply sunscreen to all exposed skin: for an adult, this should be approximately enough sunscreen to fill a shotglass (about one ounce). Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and AVB rays. It’s also smart to check your sunscreen’s expiration date as sunscreen has a shelf life of no more than three years.

There are many sunscreen options for people with all types of skin, says Korby. For example, she notes that there are specific sunscreens available for people with sensitive skin or those prone to acne. Elizabeth Kosky, owner of Elizabeth Renee in Wellesley, which provides personalized skincare, also recommends layering sunscreens. Try, for example, wearing a mineral foundation with SPF protection over moisturizer that also has SPF protection.

Korby says people need to give sunscreen another chance. Historically, she notes, sunscreens have not smelled nice or caused a lot of stinging in the eyes. But they’ve improved.

Even though there has been a great deal of information disseminated about the dangers of basking in the sun, there are still many people who want to get a healthy glow. While tanning may be attractive, it is also a sign of DNA skin damage just as burning is. When the skin is exposed to UV rays, it produces a pigment called melanin to protect itself, causing the brown color of the skin.

According to Norden, there are three types of skin cancer: squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma, which are not as dangerous as the third type called melanoma, which can spread from the skin to inside the body. The best way to protect against them is to examine your skin once a month and get an annual checkup from your dermatologist or general practitioner. If you catch melanoma early, it can save your life. According to tips adapted from the American Cancer Society and the Skin Cancer Foundation, you should take these steps to do a self-exam:

• Perform skin self-examinations in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a handheld mirror for hard-to-see places.
• Learn the pattern of moles, freckles, or other birthmarks so that you will notice any changes.
• Look for new growths, spots, bumps, or sores that do not heal
• Don’t forget hard-to-see areas of your body, such as your head, the underside of your arms, the backs of your legs, and between your toes.
• Finally, know the ABCDs of moles:

Asymmetrical: Is the mole oddly shaped?
Border: Does the mole have irregular or vaguely defined borders?
Color: Does the mole have uneven coloring or multiple colors?
Diameter: Is the mole larger than a pencil eraser or is it
growing in size?

If any moles fit these descriptions, says Norden, you should have your doctor check them out.

So what should you do if you like bronzed skin with summer’s bare clothing? First of all, all the skin care professionals we spoke to agreed: never head to a tanning salon, which has many of the same dangers as lying out in the sun. This is especially a problem with teenagers under pressure to be tan.

Instead, consider self-tanners. According to Candace Evans-Lucas of The Candy Bar skin care boutique in Weston, self- tanners have come a long way. She suggests gradual self-tanners if you want more subtle color. If you’re looking for something quicker, instant self-tanners result in a tan in a matter of hours. You also might want to consider getting a spray tan, she says, if you feel self-conscious about pale skin in the summer.

With all these options available, why not face summer with some color? But do it safely. 

Steps to Minimizing your Sun Exposure

According to the American Melanoma Foundation, taking these steps can help protect you from the sun.

© 2011 Elm Bank Media | Beth Furman, Publisher

Summer 2023