Northwestern Medical Group Expert Offers Sun Protection Tips for Summer
Hot summer sun can bring unwanted risks
Warmer weather is finally upon us, and many are eager to enjoy the welcomed change by basking in the sun’s rays. As summer officially kicks into full gear and extended daylight hours bring more time for projects and recreation, doctors urge outdoor enthusiasts to take certain precautions to prevent overexposure to the sun.
“While present year-round, ultraviolet rays from the sun pose an increased threat during summer months, when more skin is exposed for a prolonged time,” says Naomi Donnelley, MD, a dermatologist at Northwestern Medical Group. “Many people think sunburn is the worst extent of overexposure, but UV rays are associated with many skin cancers and can lead to wrinkles, discoloration, and other signs of premature aging of skin.”
“If you want to look tan, without the risk, use sunless tanning creams, sprays or mousses,” adds Dr. Donnelley. “The active ingredient in these products is dihydroxyacetone, and it’s safe. Keep in mind, a sunless tan does not give you any protection from the sun unless there is SPF included in the product.” To avoid skin damage and ensure protection from the sun, Dr. Donnelly recommends incorporating the following simple steps into a daily routine:
Use sunscreen regularly
Sunscreen, when applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, creates an effective barrier between the skin and UV rays, but one size doesn’t fit all when selecting a product. When choosing a sunscreen, keep in mind the following:
- A broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 will provide adequate protection if you’re spending minimal amounts of time in the sun, such as running errands or going to and from work, while an SPF of 45 is appropriate if spending more than 30 minutes outside.
- A sunscreen with an SPF between 30 and 50 can be used for children. For infants, protective clothing and keeping them out of the sun are best, but it is still safe and necessary to apply sunscreen to exposed skin, even for infants under 6 months old.
- Look for products containing avobenzone, oxybenzone, titanium, or zinc oxide. Zinc and titanium based sunscreens tend to be better for those with sensitive skin.
- For those with thin hair, applying sunscreen to part lines or exposed skin can help avoid uncomfortable burns on the scalp.
Wear protective clothing
- Wear loose fitting clothing that is tightly woven to protect the arms and legs.
- Hats with a brim of four inches or more provide optimal protection and should be worn as much as possible while outside.
- Wearing a T-shirt while swimming only protects from the sun’s rays if sunscreen has been applied under the T-shirt. Clothing options and swimwear are now available that have SFP and sun protection built into fabrics from which they are made.
- Water, concrete, and sand all reflect the sun’s harmful rays and exposure can be intensified by them. Take a break indoors or in a shaded area when outside for extended periods of time.
- Staying hydrated is a key component in staying cool in the sun. It cools the body’s temperature and helps avoid heat stroke. Try drinking light juices or sports drinks and avoid caffeinated beverages.
- A tepid shower or a quick swim can be refreshing and relaxing ways to cool off from the scorching sun.
Dr. Donnelley also reminds those who do get an uncomfortable sun burn that cool damp cloths, ibuprofen, and a 1 percent over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can ease the pain. “Remember, any tan or sunburn equals sun damage and will accelerate the skin’s aging process and could lead to skin cancer. Following a few simple precautions will ensure outdoor summer fun without the negative effects of the sun.”