Back to basics: Summer skin care

7/20/2017  By HealthNews

March 20, 2017

KVH Family Medicine - Ellensburg provider Megan DeSelms, ARNP, answers our questions on summer skin care. 

After years of unprotected sun exposure, the left side of this truck driver's face looks 20 years older than the right. (Photo: The New England Journal of Medicine)

As a family medicine provider, you see patients of all ages – all susceptible to skin damage, and all with different levels of ‘caring’ about their skin health, from oblivious to extremely concerned. Is there a difference in the way you communicate the importance of skin protection to children, teens, and adults?

Yes, there is! For children, I focus on educating the parents. Many people don't realize that it's the sun exposure we get before the age of 10 that is most damaging to our skin and eyes. I recommend daily use of sunscreen, avoidance of sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day (with use of hats, sun protective clothing, and shade), and sunglasses are important as well.

For teens, I remind them of the risks of excessive sun exposure, and the dangers of tanning bed use. Although tanned skin is culturally considered 'more attractive,' it's not worth the trade-off. Many teens think they won't care what their skin looks like by the time they are in their 40s, but those of us who are 40+ know the effects of the sun we got when we were younger are something we have to live with for the rest of our lives. Every trip to a tanning bed increases your chances of developing skin cancer later on in life. Laying out in the sun is also very damaging to the skin. And it's not only skin cancer you have to worry about, it's dark spots and wrinkles, as well as small broken capillaries and uneven skin tone - these things don't show up right away, so sometimes it's hard to convince teenagers of the risk. No one wants to age faster than they have to!

Fortunately, self-tanning products and spray tans have come a long way in recent years and are excellent options for young people who want that golden glow. Tanning "before a trip so I don't burn" is something I hear about from a lot of my patients, and I definitely don't advocate for that practice, either. Sun damage occurs with all UV exposure. Even if you aren't burning, you will still pay the price later on.

For adults, daily sunscreens and sun avoidance is still important. I try to educate my adult patients on the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and pre-cancerous lesions, and recommend routine skin exams so lesions that need to be treated can be identified early on.

What’s your basic advice for skin care – protection and maintenance – during the dry heat of summer?

Apply sunscreen every morning as part of your daily routine. I recommend a minimum of SPF 15. If you are outside, you should reapply every couple of hours. Reapply more frequently if you are in the water, as sunscreens will wash off. Sunscreen should be applied 30 minutes prior to outdoor activities for best results.

Any tips for parents on helping their children stay skin-safe outdoors?

Educate your kids early and often about the importance of sun protection. If you are going to be outside, set up a shade tent or find a shady spot under a tree to serve as "home base." Insist on sunscreen, and try to plan activities in the earlier morning or later afternoon, outside of the "burning hours."

Anything else you think we’d find surprising about summer skin care?

Many people don't realize that it takes quite a large amount of sunscreen to be well protected. For the average adult, you need about a shot-glass full to cover your full body. Most people don't use enough sunscreen, or reapply it often enough, and then wonder why they still get burned.

Another little known fact is that the propellants in spray sunscreen can be respiratory irritants. If you must use spray sunscreen, it's safest to spray it into your hand and then rub it in. People with asthma or other respiratory conditions should avoid spray sunscreens.

From the American Academy of Dermatology (2017)

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, HealthNews does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare provider.

Related: There's proof: Sunscreen reduces skin aging (CNN Health)