Protecting your skin from the Texas summer sun is essential for maintaining its health and youthful appearance. Being active outdoors during the summer is fun and many people consider tanned skin attractive. But over time, the skin develops a weathered, wrinkled look that leads people to seek sun damage treatment at our Houston dermatology clinics.
Why Is Sun Exposure Bad for the Skin?
The consequences of excessive sun exposure go beyond cosmetic issues. Skin cancer of various types is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States.
The American Cancer Society estimates that doctors diagnose 5.4 million skin cancers annually in the U.S. Most cancers of the skin are caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet rays from sunlight or sources such as tanning beds.
The immediate danger of too much sun is sunburn. If you looked at sunburned skin under a strong microscope, you would see that the cells and blood vessels have been damaged. With repeated sun damage, the skin starts to look dry, wrinkled, discolored, and leathery. Although the skin appears to be thicker, it actually has been weakened and, as a result, it will bruise more easily.
How Does the Sun Damage Your Skin?
Many people know that our skin absorbs ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted by the sun. Fewer people understand that the sun emits two types of UV radiation that affect our skin—UVA and UVB. (A third type, UVC, reacts with the ozone and does not reach the ground.)
UVB rays cause sunburned skin. They also play the greatest role in causing skin cancers, including the deadly black mole form of skin cancer (malignant melanoma). They’re also linked to basal and squamous cell skin cancer, which are much more common.
UVA rays also play a role in skin cancer formation. In addition, UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and play a more significant role in premature skin aging, including wrinkles and lines such as crow’s feet and discoloration. There are approximately 500 times more UVA rays in sunlight than UVB rays. That means it’s important to protect the skin from both UVA and UVB rays. Traditional chemical sunscreen products have been more successful at blocking UVB rays than UVA rays.
What About the Health Benefits of Sun Exposure?
Vitamin D is essential for our overall health, and the sun is an excellent source. But how much do we need, and how is that balanced with the health risks posed by getting too much sun? Because many foods are fortified with vitamin D, sun exposure is not as important for maintaining the body’s supply of it as it once was. Still, it’s healthier to lead an active lifestyle outside than to be sitting inside watching television. It’s not clear how much vitamin D the body needs and how to ensure you get it without too much exposure to sunlight.
There’s no question, however, that protecting yourself from the sun’s damaging effects while you’re enjoying yourself outdoors is essential—especially during the longer days of summer.
What’s the Best Way to Protect Your Skin From the Sun?
You can take various steps to avoid too much sun exposure, and these interventions are very effective. The two primary forms of shielding your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays are wearing clothes and hats that protect the skin and applying sunscreen.
What Type of Sunscreen Is Best?
A few decades ago, sunscreen was called suntan lotion, and it provided minimal protection from the sun. Today, several products effectively prevent the sun’s rays from damaging the skin.
- Find a sunscreen that’s designated as “broad spectrum.” Broad-spectrum sunscreen blocks both UVA and UVB rays.
- Check the sun protection factor number, or SPF, on the sunscreen.
A sunscreen’s SPF number indicates how many minutes it will take someone with “average” skin to get a sunburn when using that specific sunscreen. An SPF of 15, for example, means your skin is protected for 15 minutes before sun damage begins occurring. The most effective sunscreens have an SPF of between 15 and 50—but it’s best to use products with higher SPF numbers for optimal protection.
How To Use Sunscreen
Have you ever applied sunscreen just before spending several hours outside and then returned home and wondered why you have a sunburn? Remember the significance of the SPF number? Applying sunscreen once only protects your skin for a certain amount of time. When used properly, sunscreen is very effective when following these guidelines:
- Apply sunscreen at least 20 to 30 minutes before you go outdoors if you expect to be outside for 30 minutes or more.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours while you are outdoors, even if the product is labeled “all day.” If you get wet or sweat heavily, reapply more frequently.
- Don’t overlook applying sunscreen to your ears, lips, face, back of the neck, and back of your hands (and the top of your feet, if you’re wearing sandals or flip flops).
- Don’t skimp; apply a generous layer. Smooth it on rather than rubbing it in. A rule of thumb is that 45 ml (a shot glass) of sunscreen is needed to cover all exposed skin to attain the stated level of protection.
- If you intend to wear makeup, apply sunscreen first and then your makeup. If you wait to apply sunscreen until you hit the beach, you may already be perspiring, and moisture makes sunscreen less effective.
If you have children, including infants older than 6 months, apply sunscreen to them every time you reapply it to your own skin.
Other Tips for Sun Protection
Besides wearing protective clothing, wide-brimmed hats, and using sunscreen, what else can you do to avoid too much exposure to the sun’s harmful ways? Here is a list:
- If possible, avoid being outside between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun is especially intense.
- Find some shade if you are outside during those peak hours.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays.
- Avoid recreational sunbathing and don’t use tanning beds.
- Always have a hat in your car.
Treatment for Sun Damage
If your skin is already showing the effects of excess sun exposure, DermSurgery offers a range of skin repair options that can restore a youthful, healthy glow. These include Fraxel®, intense pulsed light (IPL), Q-Switched Ruby Laser & Nd:Yag Laser, and photodynamic therapy.
Even if you follow these guidelines for keeping your skin healthy and youthful-looking by limiting sun exposure, it’s important to schedule a regular checkup with a dermatologist. You can schedule an appointment by calling (713) 791-9966, or you can request a consultation to discuss cosmetic dermatology treatments at our Houston-area clinics using the online form.