Why sun protection matters
The link between ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight and skin cancer is well established. UV exposure leads to mutations in the DNA within skin cells. These mutations can cause the skin cells to turn cancerous and multiply. In addition to fighting infections, our immune system surveys our own cells for cancer-causing mutations and eliminates mutated cells. If our immune system is not functioning correctly because of immunosuppressive medications or diseases which affect the immune system, the risk of developing skin cancer increases. When our immune system is not able to do its job as well to survey cancer causing cells it becomes even more important to protect our skin from the sun in order to limit the number of new UV induced mutations.
Practicing sun safety
Limiting total sun exposure and protecting the skin from harmful UV rays when in the sun are both critical to practicing sun safety. UV radiation from the sun is most intense when the sun is closest to the earth’s surface. This occurs in the middle of the day from 10am-4 pm throughout the year, but is most significant in the Summer months when the sun is closest to the Earth. Planning your outdoor activities for the mornings or early evenings will help you limit UV exposure.
When you are in the sun, using sun-protective clothing and sunscreen are a must. It is our opinion that wearing sun-protective clothing and applying sunscreen to the areas of the skin you cannot cover-up is optimal. One limit to the success of sunscreen has always been that people are not good at applying it thoroughly and typically don’t reapply frequently enough! Sun-protective clothing takes user error out of the equation. And fortunately the quality (and fashionability!) of sun-protective clothing has greatly improved in recent years. We recommend wearing broad brimmed hats, sunglasses and sun-protective clothing whenever planning outdoor activities. Light-weight long-sleeve sun-protective shirts and pants are available at most sporting goods stores these days and will be labeled with “UPF” (ultraviolet protection factor) number to indicate UV protection. Clothing can also be washed with SunGuard to incorporate a UPF factor of 30 into fabric.
In a market filled with many sunscreen options it can be daunting to know what is best. In general, sunscreen should provide broad-spectrum UVA/UVB protection with an SPF of 30 or greater. We recommend applying sunscreen daily on your face, ears, neck, exposed scalp and hands every morning and reapply at lunchtime as part of your daily routine. When you will be more active in the sun (vacations, outdoor work, outdoor exercise, etc), you should apply the sunscreen to exposed areas of skin and reapply every two hours. Reapply more frequently if you are in the water or sweating.
Here’s a link to what you need to know when choosing sunscreen: