Skin. It’s our body’s largest organ and our first line of defense against the elements and germs. It’s also our greatest vulnerability when it comes to the summer sun’s punishing effects. In fact, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates there will be 100,350 new cases of melanoma in 2020. “Any exposure to ionizing radiation (such as that produced by the sun) can cause damage to our DNA, thereby damaging our skin cells,” explains Isaac Rosenblum, PA-C, certified physician assistant with Hudson Dermatology. However, that doesn’t mean you have to spend the summer hidden away from the sun — because a little skincare know-how can go a long way toward keeping your skin healthy all summer long.
Nothing beats physical protection such as hats, cover-ups, and other clothing, but not all cloaks are created equal. “When it comes to physical protection, fabric choices matter,” says Rosenblum. “Tightly woven and synthetic fabrics block more UV light, while darker fabrics absorb more UV light; so these materials will ultimately protect you better,” Rosenblum explains. For additional peace of mind, look for clothing with Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating, which measures the UV protection provided by fabric. You’ll know exactly how much UV protection you are getting. “No matter how diligent you are about using sunblock, there’s a high likelihood that you aren’t applying enough of it, or often enough. There’s just no substitute for a physical barrier!”
“Sunblocks contain a mineral as their active ingredient, versus a chemical that is the active ingredient in sunscreen,” explains Rosenblum, who prefers sunblocks because they cause less irritation, particularly in individuals with sensitive skin. But regardless of whether you choose a block or screen, always look for one that has SPF 30 or higher, is water resistant, and broad spectrum. And according to Rosenblum, you will be fine with either sunscreen or sunblock, as long as you are applying liberally, and then re-applying every two hours or immediately following swimming or heavy sweating.
Though often neglected, our lips need SPF protection from the sun, too! “Lips tend to receive a lot of sun damage. Make sure you use lip balm or lipstick that has a minimum SPF rating of 30,” Rosenblum advises. He also suggests everyone with thinning or no hair wear a hat or head cover. “One common area where we see a lot of skin cancer and pre-cancer is on the scalp, since this is an area that is commonly neglected,” he says.
We all need our daily dose of “the sunshine vitamin,” but what’s the right balance between soaking in vitamin D and causing irreparable damage? That depends on the individual. “Fairer-skinned individuals might only require 10 minutes of daily exposure, while darker-skinned individuals might double or triple that amount,” Rosenblum explains, adding that for those who already run a high risk of malignancy due to a history of sun exposure, even a little intentional sunbathing may be too much. “Someone who grew up in Miami and now lives here in the Hudson Valley is going to have to be more careful than someone who grew up locally. The same goes for someone with a history of multiple blistering sunburns.” For these people, he recommends ditching the 10-30 minutes of purposeful daily exposure for oral supplements.
Tick and insect bites become an additional skincare worry during the summer months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ticks can infect humans with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause serious illness, including Lyme disease and several other diseases.
Ticks tend to thrive in heavily moist or humid environments, particularly wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. The CDC recommends wearing long pants, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, socks, and closed shoes when you know you will be exposed to insects. Rosenblum recommends clothing be treated with permethrine spray that can last through multiple washes, and all exposed skin should be treated with repellents containing DEET, Picaridin, OLE, or PMD. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30 percent DEET when used on children; insect repellent should not be used on children younger thâ€‹an two months. “Always apply your sunscreen first, and then apply repellent. Keep in mind that repellent may decrease the efficacy of sunscreen, and so they should be applied more frequently,” Rosenblum says.
An important part of sun safety is being able to identify skin cancer early. The American Cancer Society recommends the “ABCDE” rule to identify suspicious moles: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, not uniform Color, larger than a quarter-inch Diameter, Evolving — or changing — shape or color.
Any change in skin should be checked by a medical professional. “Regular skin exams are critical to early detection and treatment of skin conditions,” Rosenblum advises.