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  • Aug 05, 2019

Sun safety for the summer months

Reducing exposure to direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is important.

As we spend more time outdoors during summer in New England, it is important to think about sun safety, says Dianne de Leon, MD, a dermatologist at Cambridge Health Alliance, an academic community health system serving Cambridge, Somerville and Boston’s metro-north communities.

Unprotected sun exposure resulting in blistering sunburns in childhood greatly increases one’s risk of malignant melanoma in adulthood. Melanoma is a potentially deadly form of skin cancer that has become increasingly common in the United States. In fact, it is the most common cancer diagnosed in young adults. Sun exposure also causes other forms of skin cancer as well as age spots and wrinkles. Wearing sunscreen is something we can all do to prevent skin cancer and slow down the aging process.

"Both children and adults need to practice sun safety," said Dr. de Leon. Reducing exposure to direct sunlight from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is important, as is seeking the shade. Polarized or ultraviolet-blocking sunglasses and protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants, also help. "Don’t use tanning beds or sunlamps. Natural is the new bronze and beauty comes in all shades," she added.

Sunscreen is vital in reducing skin exposure and should be applied daily to all exposed body areas. When applying sunscreen, be sure to use at least one full ounce (handful amount) for the entire body 15-20 minutes prior to sun exposure. Sunscreen should be applied every two hours but excessive sweating or activities that involve water require more frequent applications.

Dr. de Leon recommends products with a sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or higher and have broad-spectrum protection, which indicates that the product has been tested and proven to protect against both UVA and UVB radiation. The best also include titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in its ingredients, which offer physical blockage. Additionally, most sunscreen products have an expiration date, often within two years. "Check the bottom of your bottle from last year to make sure that it is still effective," she said.

Though much research supports the benefits of vitamin D, which is generated by sunlight, there is no proof that sunscreens cause low vitamin D. "In the Northeast, it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D year-round from natural sun exposure," explained Dr. de Leon. "Ask your doctor about a daily vitamin D supplement."

Finally, Dr. de Leon recommends keeping an eye on your moles, particularly those that are asymmetric, have irregular borders, or uneven color distribution. If moles are growing, changing in shape or color, causing itch or pain, or bleeding, they should be reported to your doctor immediately. 

This articles provide general information for educational purposes only. The information provided in this article, or through linkages to other sites, is not a substitute for medical or professional care, and you should not use the information in place of a visit, call consultation or the advice of your physician or other healthcare provider.

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