With warm weather upon us, the Georgia heat and humidity are constant reminders of the potential damage the sun can wreak on our skin. So, once again, armed with sunblock, floppy hats, protective clothing, sunglasses and shade wherever we can find it, we make an earnest attempt to protect ourselves and our families from the sun’s brutal effects, while at the same time enjoying the sunny outdoors.
It is always a good idea to review the basics of good summer skincare this time of year, and reinforce practices that could save your skin—perhaps even your life. Johns Creek board-certified dermatologist Dr. Leslie Gray advises wearing sunscreen daily—whether you’re going to the beach or just down the street to the grocery store. Gray recommends always using sunscreens with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30. Gray, a dermatologist at the Dermatology Center of Atlanta, shares several simple tips that can make major differences in the health and complexion of your skin in the years to come.
Use the appropriate amount of sunscreen. “Even though the bottle says SPF 30, if you’re not using a full ounce on your body, you’re using it incorrectly and you will not get the SPF that you think you’re getting,” notes Gray. To ensure you’re using the correct amount of sunscreen, you should measure out two tablespoons, or a shot glass full, every time you apply it. One 6-oz. bottle of sunscreen should provide only two full days of sun protection for prolonged outdoor activity.
Reapply sunscreen every two hours. Regardless of claims listed on the bottle, reapply sunscreen every two hours and immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
Ensure the sunscreen product protects from both UVA and UVB. Most sunscreen products on the market today protect you from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) radiation, however, the SPF number refers only to the amount of UVB protection, explains Gray. UVB rays are the rays that cause sunburn, while UVA rays penetrate deep into the base layer of the skin and break down the proteins that keep the skin firm and youthful, causing wrinkles and aging to occur. We are equally exposed to both types of radiation when outside, and both can contribute to skin cancer. Therefore, make sure that the products you purchase for sun protection indicate that they protect users from both UVA and UVB rays. Chemical sunscreens containing the ingredients avobenzone or ecamsule (Mexoryl) are excellent UVA blockers. They are usually combined with UVB blockers for complete protection. There are also sunscreens with physical blockers of both UVA and UVB that contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Chemical sunscreens need to be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, but physical blocker sunscreens take effect immediately.
Don’t forget about reflective light and windows. Beaches, lakes, pools and even cement can reflect damaging sunlight onto your skin and you should treat that exposure as seriously as you do direct sunlight, says Gray. Additionally, don’t think because you are in your car that you are not being exposed. Car windows block only the UVB rays, so the UVA rays are still getting through the glass and penetrating your skin. Gray recommends keeping sunscreen in your car and applying it to your hands and face when you are in your car.
Wear sun protective clothing and try washing sun protection into your clothes. Clothing is a great way to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays, but not all clothing is created equal. The tightness of the weave, the weight, type of fiber, color and amount of skin covered all affect the amount of protection provided. Look for sun protective clothing with a UPF rating. UPF stands for ultraviolet protection factor and indicates how much of the sun’s UV radiation is absorbed. Many tennis clothes can be found now in lightweight, breathable fabrics with high UPF rating. For a more in-depth understanding of protective clothing, go to skincancer.org. You can also turn your clothes into shelter with SunGuard, an inexpensive laundry additive that washes UPF 30 sun protection into everyday clothing and blocks more than 96 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. Protection lasts for up to 20 washings.
Additionally, the American Academy of Dermatologists recommends avoiding outdoor activities between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the peak hours of the day when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Remember the shadow rule: If your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s damaging rays are most intense.