How to Protect Your Skin this Summer – A Dermatology Discussion with Meg Irish-Pearson, DNP
Summertime in Michigan means beautiful days spent out on one of the many bodies of water that inhabit our state. It also means the sun wreaking havoc on your skin.
Meg Irish-Pearson, DNP, says there are a number of ways to protect your body’s largest organ (your skin) this summer and keeping that healthy glow. Check out Meg’s tips:
Q: What are the best ways to keep my skin protected this summer?
Meg: One of the best things you can do is cover up. The Skin Cancer Foundation says that hats and clothing made of dark, tightly woven materials absorb ultraviolet light better than cotton fabrics in lighter shades. Dry fabrics offer more protection than wet ones. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Be sure to spread it on thick enough. Applying only a thin coating of a sunscreen can reduce the effectiveness of the product by as much as 50 percent. Waterproof sunscreen is best if you'll be swimming.
Apply sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before exposure to allow the skin to absorb it. And reapply it every two hours—more often if you're sweating or getting wet. If you have fair skin, you might even want to begin preparing for sun exposure the night before by putting on a layer of sunscreen before bed; this will allow it to be thoroughly absorbed into the skin's outer layer. Then apply the usual coat of sunscreen the next day, about a half hour before you go outside.
Q: What should I do if I do get overexposed and sunburned?
Meg: Adding a few heaping tablespoons of baking soda or a cup of oatmeal to cool bath water offers a wonderful relief for sunburned skin. It is important to make sure you do not use cold water as that can send your body into shock. Just keep your soaking time to 15 to 20 minutes. If you soak any longer, you risk drying out your already lizard-like skin. When you've emerged from the bath, resist the urge to towel off. Instead air-dry, and don't wipe the baking soda off. Don't use bath salts, oils, or bubble bath.
Another remedy is aloe vera. The gel-like juice of the aloe vera plant can take the sting and redness out of sunburn. You should apply it to your skin five to six times a day. Aloe vera causes blood vessels to constrict which creates a cooling sensation.
Q: How is being dehydrated and skin dryness related?
Meg: The sun dries out the skin's surface and causes cells and blood vessels to leak. This causes even greater moisture loss within your body.
Q: Are there certain times of the day that I should avoid being outdoors as much as possible?
Meg: The sun's rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Stay indoors during this time, or if you must be outdoors, cover up and wear sunscreen.
Q: Are there things that I should I be looking for in my sunscreen product?
Meg: You will want a sunscreen with broad-spectrum or multi-spectrum protection for both UVB and UVA. Ingredients with broad-spectrum protection include benzophenones (oxybenzone), cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), sulisobenzone, salicylates, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, avobenzone (Parsol 1789) and ecamsule (Mexoryl SX).
- SPF 15 or higher for UVB protection: The SPF factor rates how effective the sunscreen is in preventing sunburn caused by UVB rays. If you'd normally burn in 10 minutes, SPF 15 multiplies that by a factor of 15, meaning you could go 150 minutes before burning. For the vast majority of people, SPF 15 is fine. But people who have very fair skin, a family history of skin cancer, or conditions like lupus that increase sensitivity to sunlight should consider SPF 30 or higher. Keep in mind that the higher the SPF, the smaller the increased benefit: contrary to what you might think, SPF 30 isn't twice as strong as SPF 15. While SPF 15 filters out 93% of UVB, SPF 30 filters out 97%, only a slight improvement.
- UVA protection: There is no rating to tell you how good a sunscreen is at blocking UVA rays. So when it comes to UVA protection, you need to pay attention to the ingredients. Look for a sunscreen that contains at least one of the following: ecamsule, avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium dioxide, sulisobenzone, or zinc oxide. Any of those should do the trick.
- Water and sweat resistance: If you're going to be exercising or in the water, it's worth getting a sunscreen resistant to water and sweat. But understand what this really means. The FDA defines water resistant sunscreen as meaning that the SPF level stays effective after 40 minutes in the water. Very water resistant means it holds after 80 minutes of swimming. These sunscreens are in no way water-proof, so you'll need to reapply them regularly if you're taking a dip.
- Kid-friendly sunscreen: The sensitive skin of babies and children is easily irritated by chemicals in adult sunscreens, so avoid sunscreens with para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzephenones like dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone. Children's sunscreens use ingredients less likely to irritate the skin, like titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Unlike chemical ingredients, these protect babies' skin without being absorbed. For kids 6 months or older, look for a sunscreen designed for children with an SPF of 15 or higher. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies under 6 months be kept out of the sun altogether.
- Sunscreen for skin problems or allergies: People who have sensitive skin or skin conditions like rosacea may also benefit from using sunscreens designed for children. Go for titanium dioxide or zinc oxide instead of chemicals like para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone. If you have skin irritation or allergies, avoid sunscreens with alcohol, fragrances, or preservatives.
Q: Are there certain foods that I should limit that could have a big impact on the look of my skin (i.e., aging prematurely)?
Meg: Foods that are high in sugar, fat and cooked at high temperatures (fried, grilled and broiled) release enzymes that break down collagen. Your collagen then doesn’t register it needs to replenish itself which can give your skin a “sunken” appearance. Foods that are high in salt and caffeine leads to dehydration and dryness of the skin.
Q: When examining my skin, what should I be looking out for?
Meg: You should be on the lookout for new moles and moles of differing colors, irregular borders, asymmetry, size and bleeding as well as non-healing sores.
Meg Irish-Pearson, DNP, is accepting new patients at Bronson Internal Medicine – Fremont St. Call (269) 245-8393 to schedule an appointment. Bronson Internal Medicine – Fremont St. is located at 363 Fremont St. in Battle Creek, Mich. Click here for more information on our primary care services offered in the Battle Creek, Kalamazoo and Paw Paw areas.