Protecting your skin from sun exposure

When someone returns from the beach with a gorgeous tan, everyone gushes over their “healthy glow”. But truthfully, there is no such thing as a “healthy” tan.

In reality, a tan is always a sign of DNA damage – your skin is darkening in an imperfect attempt to prevent further harm. This can lead to cell mutation, which triggers skin cancer.

The good news is there are a few simple things you can do to mitigate the damage caused by the sun and help keep your skin healthy and cancer-free.

Protect yourself with sunscreen – the right kind

Dermatologists aren’t saying you can’t go out and enjoy the warm sun on your face – just make sure you’re wearing sunscreen when you do it.

And not just any sunscreen. Erlanger Dermatologists Dr. Cara Hennings and Dr. Allison Goddard recommend that regardless of the brand, always look for two things on the bottle: the words “broad-spectrum” and a minimum of 30 SPF.

“Broad-spectrum” means that you will be protected from both UVA and UVB radiation, while the SPF (or “sun protection factor”) number refers to how well a sunscreen will protect you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. While no sunscreen can block 100% of UV rays, an SPF of 30 will block 97% of UVB rays.

Another phrase Dr. Hennings says you might want to look for is “80-minute water resistant.” This means if you’re sweating a lot or playing in the water, you can relax a little and have fun before it’s time to reapply. Dermatologists generally recommend reapplying sunscreen every hour and a half anyways, but you don’t want to have to reapply every 10 minutes because your sunscreen has washed off.

If you’re planning to be inside for most of your day, it’s still important to wear sunscreen. Dr. Goddard points out that it’s easy to slip sun protection into your daily skin-care routine with a daily moisturizer with SPF already in the formula.

Getting regular skin checks

If you are old enough to be exposed to the sun, you’re old enough to be at risk of skin cancer. It’s becoming more and more common to add skin checks to your routine physicals. Depending on your risk level, you might want to have a perfunctory skin exam performed every 1-5 years by your dermatologist or primary care doctor.

Many doctors recommend checking your own skin in the comfort of your own home. Using a mirror in a well-lit room, examine every inch of your skin and keep in mind your ABCs (and Ds and Es)!

A – Asymmetry: If folded in half, both sides wouldn’t match.

B – Border: An irregular, jagged border.

C – Color: Moles can be all different shades of brown, from light tan to very dark. This isn’t something to worry about. It becomes concerning when a mole suddenly begins to change color, or has shades of white, red, or black.

D – Diameter: Large marks, bigger than a pencil eraser (6mm) can be a cause for concern.

E – Evolving: After numerous checks, if you start to notice a mole changing in size, shape, or color, this can be a cause for concern.

If any of your moles meet one of these criteria, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have skin cancer, but it’s a good reason to make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will be able to perform a more thorough skin exam and can make treatment recommendations based on their findings. Early detection is key to a successful treatment.

Are you worried about your sun exposure? UT Erlanger Dermatology treats a variety of skin conditions, as well as offering cosmetic procedures to help rejuvenate damaged skin. Learn more or book an appointment today.