Life has many qualities that we often take for granted – from a beautiful sunrise to air-conditioning to the amazing human body. With so much beauty around us On the Coast, we forget one of the most beautiful features we all have – our skin. In fact, at times I am guilty of taking better care of my clothes than my skin since it does such a great job without any effort. We all neglect our skin from time to time, whether it is not wearing enough sunscreen, getting sunburned, not moisturizing enough or walking barefoot on rough surfaces. We often take for granted one of our most important and largest organs, the skin, and do the least to care for it until it is damaged or injured. The skin is the first line of defense against infection, crawling bugs and water loss.
Dr. Ronald Johnston from Advanced Dermatology and Skin Care Centre explains the effects of sun exposure. “Often patients state that they do not go out in the sun or to the beach, but sun damage is cumulative over your lifetime. It adds up over the years, such as the five minutes walking the dog, two hours boating on Crab Island and the 30 minutes driving to work.” Your daily life activities along the beautiful Emerald Coast result in years of exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays without you even trying to get a tan. The UV rays from the sun and indoor tanning cause damage to the skin and increase the risk of early aging including wrinkles, age spots and skin cancer. The ability of the skin to tan is actually a protective mechanism to help minimize the damage from UV rays.
UV Ray Facts:
• 80% or more of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate clouds.
• Almost 20% of the sun’s UV rays can reflect off the sand.
• 25% of UV rays can reflect off the water.
• Some UV rays are able to penetrate glass and car windows.
The sun’s UV rays do have benefits, such as helping to convert Vitamin D to an active form, improving some skin conditions such as psoriasis – and it feels comforting. However, research has shown an average adult needs only 20-30 minutes of sunlight per week to convert enough Vitamin D, and this amount of exposure is very easy to get in Florida. Rather, our main concerns should be the harmful effects of UV rays which include wrinkles, brown spots and skin cancer. Although many of us are concerned about wrinkles and age spots, it is the skin cancer that is the most destructive and possibly deadly.
Skin Cancer Facts:
• 1 in 5 Americans will develop a type of skin cancer during their lifetime.
• One person dies from melanoma almost every hour in the United States.
• Melanoma is the most common form of cancer for young adults 25-29 years of age, and it is the 2nd most common cancer in ages 15-29.
• A review of seven studies found a 75% increase in the risk of melanoma in those who were exposed to indoor tanning.
Protecting your Skin
Although you are not able to do anything about past sun exposure, you can protect your children and yourself now and in the future. Since we live in Florida, it is hard to avoid the sun’s UV rays, but to minimize the effects you can avoid sun exposure between the hours of 10am and 2pm, which are the most intense time periods. Dr. Johnston likes the acronym “H.E.L.P. Sunscreen” which stands for:
• H – Hat. Wear a wide-brim hat to protect your face, ears and scalp.
• E – Eyes. Wear proper sunglasses when on the water and at the beach.
• L – Lips. Use an SPF 30 lip balm. You can get skin cancer on your lips, especially your lower lip.
• P – Protective clothing. There is great sun-protective clothing usually providing SPF 30-50.
• Sunscreen – Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
Many skin care products have sunscreen added to them including moisturizers, make-up and lip balm. This enables you to apply sun protection easily with your daily skin products. In recent years, you may have noticed that the FDA changed the labeling on sunscreen in 2011 that resulted in new terms. The main changes are as follows:
• “Sunscreen”– Manufacturers are no longer able to use “sunblock” and must use “sunscreen” to avoid confusing terms.
• “Broad-spectrum” – Means the sunscreen is able to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays and is the sunscreen you want to use for the optimum protection.
• “Water resistant” – Used to describe a sunscreen that is useful when sweating or in the water. “Water resistant” has replaced “waterproof” and “sweat-proof” on sunscreens, terms that were confusing and misleading. The labels now read “water resistant” if applicable and include either 40- or 80-minutes as a time indication of when you need to re-apply a water-resistant sunscreen.
• Cancer warning label on some sunscreens – Any sunscreen with a SPF lower than 15 or that does not meet the requirement for broad-spectrum is required to have on its label the following: "Skin cancer/Skin aging alert: Spending time in the sun increases your risk of skin cancer and early skin aging. This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging."
More tips on Sunscreen:
Dr. Johnston emphasizes that besides using a broad-spectrum sunscreen when outdoors, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends a sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 (which blocks 97% of ultraviolet rays). Additionally, no matter what sunscreen you apply, ensure you re-apply the sunscreen every two hours (or sooner if using a 40-minute water resistant sunscreen). Some of the more common errors with sunscreen application are not applying enough and not rubbing in the sunscreen, especially spray-on sunscreens. Also do not forget your lips which can develop skin cancer also. Besides wearing sunscreen during outdoor activities, Dr. Johnston recommends using moisturizers daily that contain at least SPF 15 (which blocks 93% of ultraviolet rays) to help protect your skin on a daily basis and avoid the cumulative damage over the years.
Dr. Johnston also states it is important to develop the habit of performing at least monthly self-skin exams to look for any concerning spots or moles. If any concerns are noted during a self-skin exam, see a doctor as soon as possible. Although skin cancer is rare in children, it does occur, so do a periodic skin exam on them also.
If you have a history of skin cancer or pre-cancerous lesions, ensure you obtain a skin exam by a provider at least every six months. A board-certified dermatologist is a skin cancer specialist who has passed specific training and certification with a national board organization. They are experts in general dermatology and skin cancer who can provide professional skin examinations and assist with all of your skin’s needs today and in the future.