Heading south for the upcoming school break? Remember to protect your skin from the sun’s damaging rays.
UR Medicine dermatologist Dr. Mary Gail Mercurio says the idea that a suntan makes you appear healthy is truly only skin deep. Many vacationers will suffer skin damage and sun burns. And one in five Americans will develop skin cancer, the most common cancer in the United States.
Dr. Mercurio offers these six steps for sun safety:
- Screen it: Use sunscreen every day and choose one wisely. The best have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and guard against both UVB and UVA ultraviolet radiation.
- Cover it: Apply sunscreen 15 to 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapply it every two to three hours while you’re outside. Be sure to put it on all exposed skin, including the back of your neck, tops of your ears and feet, and your scalp if you’ve lost some hair.
- Top it off: A hat with a four-inch brim will protect more than 95 percent of your head, face and neck. Light-weight clothes that cover your arms and legs also offer good protection.
- Wait it out: Stay indoors or in the shade when the sun is most intense, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Schedule outdoor activities for early morning or late afternoon to avoid the most damaging rays.
- Skip it: A “base tan” doesn’t provide any protection from sun damage so skip the tanning parlor. Whether from a beach or a tanning bed, there is no such thing as a safe, healthy, or protective tan; every tan accumulates more damage to the skin. Even a few tanning-bed sessions increase your risk for skin cancer.
- Add it up: When caring for your skin, remember that sun damage is cumulative and occurs even when you’re not actively sun-seeking, like when you’re walking the dog, mowing the lawn, or even out running errands.
If you believe a tan gives you a healthy appearance, consider how sun damage can speed the aging of your skin. Sunscreen is a much less expensive alternative to cosmetic interventions to reverse wrinkles and pigment irregularities that come with overexposure to the sun.
The safer, healthier alternative is to embrace your natural skin color. If you can’t accept a tan-less tone, sunless tanning (from a bottle) is a safe alternative.
Mary Gail Mercurio, M.D., is a professor of Dermatology and Obstetrics and Gynecology at URMC, caring for patients at UR Medicine’s Strong Memorial Hospital. She has special interest in skin and hair disorders in women.