Healthy Skin Care

Sun Protection 101

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Spring and soon-to-be summer are finally here! But while you enjoy sunny days, backyard barbecues and outdoor sports, it important to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays when you venture outside.

Wearing sunscreen not only protects your skin from burns (ouch!), it also prevents wrinkles and reduces your risk of skin cancer, explains Marla Jahnke, M.D., pediatric dermatologist at Henry Ford Health System. Yet, many people brave the sun’s harsh rays without the right protection.

Sure, applying sunscreen adds a step to your daily routine, but it’s as essential to your health and well-being as brushing your teeth. But how do you know if you’re doing enough? You can stay safe in the sunshine with these 7 tips:

  1. Get under cover. No one is suggesting you stay indoors, but try to find shade and minimize your exposure to direct sunlight. This is especially true when the sun is at its peak between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  1. Select the right sunscreen. Daily sunscreens tend to be thin and contain a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or less. “While that might be enough for your commute to work, it may not be suitable for longer sun exposures,” says Dr. Jahnke. Instead, if you’re planning a day at the lake or some other outside activity, choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against the sun’s ultraviolet rays (both UVA and UVB) with an SPF of at least 30. Mineral-based products with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide tend to be less irritating to the skin (even though they’re sometimes harder to rub in).
  1. Choose a sunscreen that you or your child will use. There are many good options out there, including sprays, lotions and creams. If you prefer a spray, getting full coverage can be trickier than with a cream, so consider “for longer days outside, applying a cream sunscreen before heading out and after lunch, and then using spray in between if you don’t have the time to reapply with the cream,” suggests Jahnke. Spray the product into your hands first, then rub it into your skin to ensure full coverage. And never spray sunscreen indoors—you increase the chances you’ll breathe it into your lungs.
  1. Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go outside, even when it’s cloudy. For sunscreen to work properly, it must be applied 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. Sun damage and burns can happen even when you’re in the sun for a short period of time and when it’s cloudy.
  1. Don’t be stingy. Most people underestimate the amount of sunscreen they need and tend to miss hot spots like the lips, ears, scalp and feet. “The average adult needs to apply about 1 ounce (the amount that would fit into a shot glass) to cover the entire body. This is far less than most people use,” says Jahnke.
  1. Reapply frequently. No matter the SPF, it’s a good idea to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours while you’re outside. If you’re jet skiing, swimming or playing a sweaty game of beach volleyball, reapply sunscreen more often. Even water resistant products can wash away easily.
  1. Think beyond sunblock. While sunscreen is one part of a good sun protection routine, people should consider other options, too, including clothing with UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor). Big box stores, online retailers and even your local clothing store often carry a decent selection of fashionable options for adults and children alike. Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are also a must.

But even with the added safety measures, burns can still happen. So if they do, get out of the sun and apply cool compresses or refrigerated aloe lotion to soothe the skin. Still in pain? Pop an ibuprofen, apply hydrocortisone cream to take the edge off and protect the area from the sun (meaning cover up!) until the burn has completely healed.

“If fevers or chills develop or large areas blister, it is best to have the burn evaluated by a medical professional,” says Jahnke.

To find a dermatologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).

Dr. Marla Jahnke is a pediatric dermatologist seeing patients at Henry Ford Medical Centers in Detroit, Farmington Hills and Troy.