Sun safety simplified
Summer is here, and more people are spending time outdoors. Although special precautions need to be taken to protect skin from the more intense rays this time of year, sun protection is important all year.
Dr. Chet Maingi is a dermatologist at the Sanford Dermatology Clinic in Bemidji. He explained that sunlight consists of two types of harmful rays that reach the earth: UVA rays and UVB rays. Overexposure to either can lead to skin cancer. UVA rays can pass through window glass and clouds and prematurely age skin by causing wrinkles and age spots. UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that everyone use sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection against UVA and UVB rays, a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or higher and water resistance.
“The best type of sunscreen is the one you will use again and again,” Maingi said. “The kind of sunscreen you use is a matter of personal choice.”
Options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays.
“Creams are best for dry skin and for the face, while gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest,” he said. “Sticks are good to use around the eyes.
“Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they are easy to apply to children. However, the challenge in using sprays is that it is difficult to know if you have used enough sunscreen to cover all sun-exposed areas of the body. When using spray sunscreen, spray until the skin glistens, then rub it in to ensure even coverage.
“To avoid inhaling spray sunscreen, never spray it around or near the face or mouth. Spray the sunscreen into your hands and then spread it on your face.”
Maingi said he recommends applying sunscreen every morning throughout the year.
“If you are planning to be outdoors especially, swimming or sweating, reapply sunscreen every two hours,” he said. “When you are outdoors, keep sunscreen with your cooler so when you rehydrate you can also reapply sunscreen. Make sure to apply sunscreen to the chin and neck/chest area under your chin.”
The risk of sunburn also increases when engaging in popular winter activities where one is exposed to higher altitudes and additional UV light reflected from the snow.
Wear protective clothing
Sun protective clothing will help protect skin. The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) indicates how much UV radiation (both UVB and UVA) a fabric allows to reach the skin. For example, a UPF 50 fabric blocks 98 percent of the sun’s rays, reducing the sun exposure risk significantly.
Fabric must have a UPF of 30 to qualify for The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. A UPF of 30 to 49 offers very good protection, while UPF 50+ rates as excellent.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, dense fabrics and dark colors provide more protection than light colors. To help protect skin from the sun, dermatologists recommend wearing lightweight and long-sleeved shirts and pants, sunglasses with UV protection (large-framed or wraparound sunglasses offer more sun protection than aviators), a wide-brimmed hat and shoes that cover your feet completely.
Skin checks are key
“Early detection of melanoma is best accomplished by professional skin examination by trained clinicians and by thorough skin self-examination on a monthly basis,” Maingi said. “Monthly skin exams have been associated with substantially reduced melanoma mortality. Unfortunately, self skin exams are performed by only about 9 to 18% of the population.”
There are also new technologies emerging to help doctors.
“There are a number of newer tools to help us catch early melanoma,” he said. “Sanford Fargo has something called mole mapping, where multiple photos of your body are taken and securely stored to document all of your moles. The provider examines the photos and the patient to determine if there are any concerning changes.”