Summer has returned. What do you need to know about protecting yourself during the brightest season?
There is an abundance of unmistakable summer sounds that signal your arrival at the beach. The thwack of a towel being snapped out onto the sand. The gleeful screams of young children chasing one another into the water, popsicles in hand. The callous cries of the seagulls you try so hard to hide your food from every time you visit.
But wait. You inhale a little. Ah, yes, it’s not just the sound of the area, but it’s also another prominent and familiar beach trait: the smell of sunscreen.
Having reached the edge of the sand, you decide to set up. Putting down your belongings, you reach into your bag. Your hand grips a bottle of your sunscreen — something you don’t always put on, despite that little nagging voice in the back of your head telling you to “stay safe” every year.
Maybe you’ll be a little bit better about reapplying this summer. Here are some reasons why you should.
Stay Out Of The Sun
According to local dermatologist Dr. Morgan O’Donoghue, the body is affected by two wavelengths of the sun’s rays: Ultraviolet A, which activates the skin’s melanocytes and can lead to melanoma, and Ultraviolet B, the rays that can cause sunburns.
Not only do both of these rays age our skin over time, O’Donoghue says, but they can also contribute to the development of the two most common types of skin cancer, which are basal skin cancer and squamous carcinoma skin cancer.
And skin cancer doesn’t happen overnight.
“Your whole life, your body is trying to protect you from the sun. There are micro-DNA effects that damage your DNA, and your body usually does a very good job of repairing those little hits,” Dr. Elizabeth Callahan of SkinSmart Dermatology said. “But what happens is that after a number of hits — because you’ve got two copies of the gene — if you damage both copies, then you can get skin cancer.”
Those “hits” our skin takes, Callahan said, will usually lead to other aesthetic changes prior to reaching the point of skin cancer — hyperpigmentation, thickening of the skin, broken blood vessels and even dilated pores come from years of too much sun.
And then, of course, there are wrinkles and other factors of aging that are made worse when the sun starts to break down the collagen in our skin.
“Collagen [is] the rubber band that, when we’re very young, we have a lot of,” O’Donoghue said. “And they’re very thick, and they’re very tight. As we age, the sun breaks up those rubber brands … so our skin starts to sag and wrinkle.”
The good news is that people don’t have to keep themselves sequestered away all summer to keep safe from the sun’s rays. In fact, there are a number of ways to mitigate sun exposure and keep safe; it’s all about knowing what options play into your summer plans the most effectively.
Sunscreen is the foundation of a safe and healthy Florida summer. But with all of the options, how do you know which to choose?
O’Donoghue recommends grabbing a bottle that is between SPF 30 and SPF 50 but no higher. Anything above 50, he said, is going to be more money for little difference in protection. Baby lotions might also be healthier for the skin because they consist of minerals, such as zinc and titanium, while most traditional sunscreens are heavy in chemicals.
Throughout the day, he said, a person should always apply and reapply using “a shot-glass worth” of liquid, which should be an adequate amount for the average person’s body.
Meanwhile, Callahan recommends avoiding spray-on lotions — which she describes as “notoriously inaccurate” in coverage — as well as avoiding the sun’s highest hours of strength during the day, which fall between noon and 3 p.m.
Additionally, newer makeup lines that advertise themselves as SPF formulas just don’t make the cut.
“We’re really not putting makeup on the way we’re putting sunscreen on,” Callahan said. “It’s great that there’s sunscreen in makeup, but you’re much better off if you put your sunscreen on first and then your makeup. … And what’s most important is, when you’re wanting to protect against skin cancer, that you use a broad protection sunscreen.” That means a sunscreen that protects from both forms of UV light.
Of course, nothing will work quite as well as simply being mindful of your overall exposure.
Someone who is outside often or is likely to burn easily might want to invest in new sun-protective clothing brands that are rated and tested, both Callahan and O’Donoghue said. Like sunscreen, finding a tag that’s SPF 30 or above will ensure adequate protection wherever covered.
As the skin is the largest organ of the body, the easiest way to stay up to date in terms of treatment is simply to stay hydrated.
“Of course we want to hydrate our skin and keep our skin moist and fresh,” Callahan said. “But during these hot months, it’s so easy to overheat, and I think it’s very important to drink enough water. Also sometimes, especially for older people, if they’re inside a lot, air conditioning can actually be very dehydrating because it takes the humidity out of the air.”
Although she didn’t have any recommendations on specific amounts to drink at a time, she did stress the importance of consistently drinking water throughout the day.
So what about cosmetic treatments patients seek to maintain their youth or undo years of damage? In particular, microdermabrasion and chemical peels are advertised with the allure of turning back the clock. But do they really work?
“Face peels, microdermabrasion — they’re superficial,” O’Donoghue said. “They will help with a little bit of the texture of your skin. They’re not harmful at all … They’re kind of like a car wash: Your car looks better for two weeks, then you need another one. There’s no permanence.”
Instead, Callahan and O’Donoghue recommend turning to topical creams and treatments that involve retinol, Retin-A or other antioxidants, which can prevent further oxidation of the skin and stimulate new collagen.
Both also emphasized the ultimate importance of using sunscreen as a preventative measure. Daily diligence is what will protect your skin, and it’s much easier than trying to reverse the damage that has already been done.
“You’re not bulletproof with just sunscreen … no matter how much sunscreen you have,” Callahan said. “You want to limit your time out or sun exposure. … It’s not just about the sunscreen; it’s about the sun protective clothing and hats.”