American Society of Plastic Surgeons
For Medical Professionals
 

Summer's not over yet! Protecting your skin from the sun


"But I love the sun!" ...is a phrase I hear in my office all too often. Especially this time of year. My usual reply: "Well, the sun doesn't love you..." Skin cancer rates are on the rise. Doctors have become increasingly aware of the increase in the rates of skin cancer in the United States, and have stressed the importance of the need for protection from ultraviolet radiation (UV). The harm caused by UV includes premature aging (such as wrinkling and age spots), skin cancer, and permanent, sometimes blinding, damage to eyes. Doctors everywhere agree that education is critical to stopping the epidemic of sun related diseases - especially skin cancer. As to the actual physiological effects of UV radiation on the skin, I'll spare the scintillating details. Suffice it to say that the sun ages our skin undoubtedly more than any other environmental factor.

Sun safety includes multiple modalities of sun protection, as well as close follow-up with a plastic surgeon for skin health maintenance and early cancer detection. Many simple and easy methods must be employed to make your life sun-safe. Sun protective clothing, including hats, sunglasses, sunscreens, umbrellas, sun shades are all important first-line agents. Sun avoidance, at least for the hotter parts of the day around the noon hours, may always be considered. Awnings, canopies, window film or UV film, will all help to protect as well.

Sunscreen options are numerous, and can be confusing. SPF: you've probably heard this acronym, before - it means sun protection factor - a fancy way of saying how much a product will protect skin from the sun. Higher numbers mean that the product protect will create a great protection barrier on the skin. I recommend 50 and above for the skin of the face of fair-skinned people, and at least 30 and above for the body. For children and those with extra sensitive skin or a particularly pale complexion, higher numbers will do. You want a sunscreen that says "broad spectrum," which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays, according to the FDA.

Protection should begin as soon as a baby is born and continue throughout life. This is particularly important for people who have fair skin and light eyes. Babies should be kept out of direct sun light and should wear sun protective clothing, including hats and sunglasses. While most sunscreen can be used on infants, it is better to only use a sunblock with zinc and/or titanium dioxide. As a child grows, UV protection habits should become as routine as brushing teeth. Adults should use UV protection daily. Outdoor workers and baby boomers are at high risk for skin cancer. Outdoor workers should always use UV protection and check their skin. They should also talk to their employers about strategies for sun protection. Baby boomers and seniors should use sun protection and check their skin regularly as skin cancer is more likely to occur in older age groups. Tanning beds are not a good idea, especially not for children.

Many government agencies, foundations and individuals are working to provide helpful sun protection information and programs. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Weather Service provide a daily UV Index, along with recommended methods to protect against ultraviolet radiation. The Skin Cancer Foundation has created classroom materials for schools that advocate student use of sun protection clothing, sunscreen, sunglasses and hats.

Have fun and stay safe in the sun!


The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

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