Among the most prevalent and universal skin-related issues is inadequate sun protection. A wide range of changes to the skin, including the development of melanoma, other forms of skin cancer, wrinkles, and photodamage are all attributed to unprotected sun exposure. The consequences of sun damage to the skin can be permanent and even life-threatening. Gainesville Dermatology & Skin Surgery offers comprehensive screenings for skin cancer and melanoma, as well as dermatology surgery for the removal of dangerous skin lesions.
Sun Exposure Risks
A small degree of sun exposure typically poses little risk and multiple benefits. However, an excessive amount of sun exposure can result in a host of dangerous consequences to humans. Overexposure to UV radiation and sunlight can lead to skin cancer (melanoma), photoaging (photodamage), damage to the eyes, and suppression of the immune system. Identifying and understanding these potential consequences and taking precautions against them can help you enjoy spending time under the sun without increasing your risk of sun-related health issues.
Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States — more than one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. The most severe form of skin cancer, melanoma, accounts for upwards of 75% of skin-cancer-related deaths. Primary risk factors for melanoma include UV exposure and sunburns, especially during childhood and adolescence. Although the majority of melanomas are sun-related, other possible causes include immune-system deficiencies and genetic factors. Non-melanoma skin cancers, such as basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, are often less dangerous than melanomas, and if diagnosed and treated early, are rarely fatal.
The vast majority of visible signs indicating face and body aging, such as wrinkles, skin dryness, loss of collagen, and abnormal pigmentation, result from UV radiation exposure. Photoaging, or photodamage, is premature aging of the skin marked by both internal and external changes to sun-exposed skin that cause it to appear thick, wrinkled, and leathery over time. Actinic keratosis (AK) is a sun-related skin disorder in which skin growths develop on parts of the body commonly exposed to the sun, such as the face, hands, arms, neck, legs, and chest. The presence of AK is a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma. With long-term, daily, and adequate sun protection, most signs of premature skin aging can be avoided.
Vitamin D is made in the body when the skin is exposed to natural sunlight. But it doesn’t take much sun exposure for the body to produce adequate levels of Vitamin D. When unprotected, the body’s health is put at risk due to suppression of the immune system. Overexposure to UV rays suppresses the body’s natural defenses and immune system. Natural body defenses against infections, cancers, and other foreign invaders become weak when the skin is overexposed to UV radiation. This reduces the skin’s ability to protect itself from an attack. The harmful effects of UV radiation can be aggravated by ground-level ozone (a pollutant emitted by vehicle exhaust), which may also contribute to a loss of vitamins and antioxidants and accelerate visible signs of aging on the body and face.
Along with the skin, the eyes are highly susceptible to the harmful effects of ultraviolet rays. UV radiation is a leading cause of the development of cataracts — a form of eye damage characterized by lost transparency in the lens of the eye that clouds the vision. If cataracts are left untreated, they can lead to complete blindness. Cataracts are typically curable with modern ocular surgery for most patients. Additional sun-related damage to the eyes includes ocular tissue growths that block the vision, or pterygium. To reduce the risk of developing eye damage, we recommend that patients always wear sunglasses, glasses, or contact lenses that offer 99-100 percent UV protection during daylight hours.
UVA Vs. UVB
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which consists of different types of rays. There are two basic types of ultraviolet rays that reach the earth’s surface — ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays. Both types of radiation can affect skin and health in different ways.
Ultraviolet A (UVA)
Ultraviolet A, or UVA rays have higher wavelengths but lower energy levels than other types of UV rays. UVA rays are more penetrating than UVB rays, meaning they can affect cells located deeper under the skin’s surface. They can likewise cause indirect damage to DNA and attack cell membranes, altering proteins such as collagen and elastin, which support the structure of skin. These rays cause the skin to age prematurely, leading to visible effects like wrinkles, and they can also cause some skin cancers. Approximately 95 percent of UV rays that reach the earth are UVA rays. The effects of UVA rays tend to appear right away through skin tanning or burns. UVA rays are powerful enough to penetrate clouds and windows.
Ultraviolet B (UVB)
Ultraviolet B, or UVB rays have shorter wavelengths and higher energy levels than UVA rays. UVB causes damage to the outermost layers of the skin and, like UVA, they can directly damage DNA cells. While most skin cancers are caused by exposure to UVB rays, these rays can cause the skin to age prematurely, pre-cancerous skin damage, and immune system suppression. These rays are partially absorbed by the ozone layer, with about 5% reaching the ground. Overexposure to UVB rays leads to sunburns, which appear hours after sun exposure. These rays do not penetrate windows and they are more likely to be filtered by clouds than other types of UV rays.
How To Avoid Sun Exposure
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States of America — one person dies every hour from melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The most preventable risk factor for skin cancer and melanoma is exposure to the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Protect your skin with the following tips. For more information about melanoma treatment with our dermatology clinic, contact us today.
- Avoid sun exposure, especially between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Seek shade while outdoors during daylight hours
- Wear long-sleeve, protective clothing while outdoors
- Avoid surfaces that reflect light, such as water, concrete, and sand
- Never use tanning beds and sun lamps
- Apply sunscreen generously and regularly on a daily basis
Sun-Protective Clothing (UPF)
An effective and easy way to protect yourself from UV rays is wearing sun-protective clothing. Sun-safe clothing remains one of the best forms of protection against sun damage and skin cancer and, when coupled with sunscreen, it offers even better protection. Depending on a number of factors, clothing can either absorb or block harmful UV radiation.
What Is UPF?
Ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) is a standard that measures the effectiveness of materials that protect skin from the sun. In other words, UPF indicates the collective amount of radiation that can pass through fabric to reach the skin. UPF measures both UVA and UVB — measurements range from 15 to 50 or more. A 15–24 UPF range blocks about 93–96% of UV radiation, UPF ranging from 25–39 blocks approximately 96-97%, and fabrics with 40–50+ UPF can block up to 98% UV. The higher the UPF value, the better the protection.
How To Pick Sun-Protective Clothing
Not all fabrics offer equal protection — to select UPF clothing that offers adequate sun protection, consider the item’s UPF rating, color, content, construction, coverage, fit, and intended activity.
Clothing brands may include labels that specify the item’s UPF rating. These labels offer information that helps wearers understand the amount of sun rays each garment can protect the skin against. Look out for UPF labels when purchasing sun-protective clothing.
Rather than allowing UV rays to penetrate the fabric and harm the skin, fabrics that are dark or bright in color absorb harmful rays. We recommend choosing fabrics with deep and vibrant colors, as these offer more effective protection than those with light and muted colors.
In determining sun-protective quality, the composition of a fabric is an essential factor. Shiny polyesters, silks, and satin reflect radiation, while unbleached cotton absorbs rays with natural linings. Fabrics treated with chemical UV absorbers or dyes can also prevent UV penetration.
Denim, canvas, wool, and synthetic fibers, among other densely woven fabrics typically protect the skin better than fabrics constructed from sheer, thin, or loosely woven fibers. Hold a piece of clothing up to natural light — UV rays will likely penetrate fabrics you can see through.
The more coverage a piece of clothing offers, the better the defense it provides the skin against UV radiation. When the sun is at its strongest and during any other daytime hours, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, skirts, dresses, or other items to minimize skin exposure.
A piece of clothing that stretches or becomes transparent when wet offers reduced sun-protective benefits, exposing the skin to more UV light. Be sure to select your clothing based on the activity to help keep your skin protected all day long.
For sun protection, loose-fitting clothing is better than tight-fitting clothing. Tight garments are likely to stretch with wear which reduces the item’s level of UV protection, as the fibers separate from one another and UV light passes through the gaps.
Broad-Spectrum Sunscreen (SPF)
A critical part of a successful sun-safety strategy, sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing or scattering UV rays from the sun. Depending on their formulation, they may also contain chemicals that defend against UV rays by interacting with the skin. Unlike basic sunscreens that only protect the skin from UVB rays, broad-spectrum sunscreens prevent both UVA and UVB rays from damaging the skin. Contact us today to schedule a dermatology appointment and find out how to supercharge your daily sun-protection routine.
How Does Sunscreen Work?
Sunscreens are products that combine several ingredients that help prevent two types of harmful UV rays from penetrating the skin — long-wave UVA rays and short-wave UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the thickest layer of the skin, and UVB rays typically burn superficial skin layers, while both UVA and UVB radiation promote the development of skin cancer and melanoma. Sunscreens vary widely in their abilities to adequately protect against UVA and UVB rays.
What Is SPF?
Sun protection factor (SPF), is a measure of a sunscreen’s ability to deflect UV rays. The SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time required to burn with regard to sunscreen-protected skin and unprotected skin. Gainesville dermatology experts recommend the daily use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen — this protects the skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays — with an SPF minimum rating of 35 to protect against sunburn, to reduce the risk of skin cancer, and to prevent photodamage and photoaging, or premature skin aging due to sun exposure. When applied properly and regularly, sunscreens with an SPF of at least 35, which blocks 97% or more of the sun’s rays. However, because no sunscreen can block 100 percent of the sun’s rays, it’s important to ensure the regular use of other methods for sun protection, such as sun-protective clothing.
Who Should Use Sunscreen?
Everyone, including children, should use sunscreen on a daily basis to aid in the prevention of skin cancer and other harmful results of unprotected sun exposure. However, babies who are younger than 6 months should avoid direct sun exposure due to increased skin sensitivity. To ensure protection from the sun, patients who are older than 6 months should apply and regularly reapply a water-resistant or sweat-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 35 on all areas of exposed skin, including the face, the body, and any other exposed portions of the skin.
Physical Sunscreen Vs. Chemical Sunscreen
Selecting the best product for your skin’s needs can seem daunting with so many sunscreen options available. The optimal type of sunscreen is one that you will use each day, so long as it offers safe and effective protection with an SPF of 35 or higher. Both of the two main types of sunscreen — physical sunscreen and chemical sunscreen — are formulated with active ingredients that help protect the skin from UV rays. Our Gainesville dermatologists can provide sun-care recommendations for your specific skin type.
Physical sunscreen (or mineral sunscreen) contains minerals, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide that block and scatter the sun’s rays before they can penetrate the skin and cause damage. Physical sunscreens are differentiated by their active sun-protection ingredients and contain ingredients that are less likely to irritate the skin than chemical sunscreens.
Chemical sunscreens contain ingredients like avobenzone and octisalate that work like a sponge by absorbing the sun’s rays. This type of formula is often considered to be easier to rub into the skin than physical sunscreens. While both types of sunscreens can provide sun protection, certain sunscreen formulas and ingredients may be more beneficial than others.
How To Select Sunscreen
The most effective way to choose a sunscreen with beneficial ingredients, adequate, broad-spectrum protection from both UVA and UVB rays. A dermatologist in Gainesville with our practice can help you select the ideal sunscreen for your skin type. Look for sunscreens that offer these features:
- SPF 35 or higher
- UVA and UVB protection
- Water-resistant and sweat-resistant
- Free from alcohol, fragrances, and preservatives
- The purchase date is prior to the printed expiration date
Patients who commonly experience skin sensitivity or skin allergies, as well as children, should avoid sunscreens with skin-irritating ingredients such as para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and benzophenones, which include dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone. For more information about sunscreen ingredients, schedule a dermatology appointment today.
How To Apply Sunscreen
No matter how beneficial the formula of a sunscreen, adequate sun protection requires proper sunscreen application and reapplication. Patients should apply sunscreen generously at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. The amount of sunscreen required depends based on a number of factors, including the duration of sunlight exposure, the geographic location, and the person’s size. Most adults require about 1 ounce — enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass — for full-body coverage. Shake the bottle vigorously and rub the product into the skin thoroughly — don’t forget to apply sunscreen to the neck, the face, the ears, the feet, and the legs.
For hard-to-reach areas, such as the back, ask for help with application. To protect the scalp, wear a wide-brimmed hat, and to ensure the lips are protected, apply a lip balm with an SPF of at least 35. To remain protected while outdoors, patients must reapply a generous amount of sunscreen every couple of hours, or immediately following swimming or sweating. Those who experience a significant amount of perspiration or contact with water should apply additional layers of sunscreen more frequently, in accordance with their specific skin protection needs.
How To Treat A Sunburn
Following sun exposure, a sunburn can appear 4–6 hours afterward, with the full burn developing within 24 hours. Mild sunburns typically present with mild-to-moderate redness and some peeling lasting 1–2 days. To treat mild sunburns, we recommend using cold compresses, moisturizers containing natural aloe vera, cool baths, and over-the-counter hydrocortisone treatments. Those with mild-to-severe sunburns should remember to drink plenty of water and maintain hydration to help rehydrate the skin during the healing process. Severe sunburns can present with blisters, peeling, and significant redness. We advise patients with severe sunburns to avoid sun exposure and to avoid rupturing their blisters, as this may cause a skin infection — your dermatologist may prescribe oral steroids or other treatments to help prevent infection and reduce discomfort.
Skin Cancer Self-Examination Tips
The first line of defense against skin cancer starts with patients getting to know their skin. In addition to using daily sun-protection, patients should likewise examine the skin on their face and body on a regular basis for signs of skin cancer and proceed to consult a dermatologist if any skin irregularities are present. The following self-examination steps can result in the early diagnosis of skin cancer.
- Use a mirror to examine both the front and back of the body, including the left and right sides of the body with the arms raised.
- Bend the elbows and carefully inspect skin on the forearms, the upper arms, the underarms, and the palms.
- Inspect the back of the legs and the feet as well as the skin between the toes and the soles of the feet.
- Examine the back of the neck and the scalp with a mirror, parting the hair for a more thorough inspection.
- Check all areas of skin on the back and the buttocks with a hand-mirror.