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7 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage

7 Ways to Protect Your Skin from Sun Damage

June 09, 2022

With the weather finally warming up, the UV index is climbing along with the temperatures. Of course, protecting your skin from the sun is important year-round, but the highest risk exists during the summer months when the UV index is at its peak and when we spend more time outdoors. Katie Shahwan, MD at Truyu Dermatology shares how you can protect your skin this summer. 

Why is it important to protect your skin from the sun?

Many people enjoy looking tan and love the feel of sunlight hitting their skin, but this comes with long term consequences. Sun exposure significantly increases your risk of developing skin cancers and pre-cancerous lesions, including actinic keratoses, basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Sun exposure also ages the skin more rapidly, resulting in discoloration, texture changes, and wrinkles. The good news is, we still want you to be able to get outside and enjoy the weather! Summer is short and is meant to be enjoyed. However, implementing a few sun safety lifestyle changes can significantly lower your risk.

How to protect your skin from the sun:

  • Add moisturizer with sunscreen into your daily skin care regimen. Apply this to any exposed skin, but especially your face, neck, and ears.
  • When spending time outdoors, protect your skin with sunscreen, SPF clothing, and broad brimmed hats.
  • Sunscreen should be broad spectrum (meaning it is effective against both UVA and UVB rays), SPF 30 or higher (I prefer 50 or higher for my patients) and reapplied every 2 hours while outdoors and immediately after being in the water (even if it is labeled as “water-resistant”).
  • Sun protective (SPF) clothing is a great option – it doesn’t need to be reapplied every 2 hours like sunscreen and the styles have become much more fashionable, lightweight, cool, and easy to wear in recent years. You should still apply sunscreen to any uncovered areas.
  • Avoid the sun when the UV index is highest by staying indoors or seeking shade during the peak sunlight hours.

    A person applying sunscreen to a child’s back.
  • Avoid tanning – both outdoors and in tanning beds.
  • Avoid sunburns. Even one blistering sunburn significantly increases the risk of skin cancer later in life.

It’s never too late to start protecting your skin from the sun! Although much of skin cancer risk comes from cumulative sun damage over the years, starting good sun protection habits in adulthood can still make a big difference. 

How else can you protect yourself from skin cancer?

Perform monthly skin exams on yourself.

Keep an eye on your moles and other skin lesions, and make note of anything that is new, growing, changing, or developing symptoms such as itching, pain, or bleeding. Moles that are “ugly ducklings” (they look much different than your other moles) or meet the “ABCDE” criteria;

  • A: asymmetry
  • B: border irregularity
  • C: color change/multiple colors
  • D: diameter greater than a pencil eraser
  • E: evolution or change over time

If you have moles like these, they should be evaluated by your primary care provider or a dermatology provider. Flesh-colored, pink, or red skin lesions that are new and persistent, growing, scaly, painful, bleeding or otherwise concerning should also be checked promptly. Early detection of skin cancers is critical to the success of treatment.

Schedule a full body skin exam with a medical professional.

A person looking at a spot on their face in a mirror.

Some patients (such as those with minimal sun damage and no history of skin cancer) may elect to schedule their first skin exam with their primary care provider. Many patients, especially those with multiple moles, suspicious lesions, or significant sun damage, may elect to schedule their exams with a dermatology provider. A baseline skin check is a good idea for everyone; then, depending on the findings, your provider can advise you on how frequently you should have these exams performed.

If you have significant sun damage and have had multiple skin cancers, you may have options for slowing down your rate of developing new lesions. This may involve “field therapy”, which entails treating sun -damaged areas with topical medications or certain types of light therapy, or even oral vitamins or medications.

Treatments for Skin Cancer

Skin cancer treatment varies widely depending on the location, type, depth, and aggressiveness of the tumor. The first step for a suspicious lesion is always an exam; if your provider is worried about skin cancer, they will then perform a biopsy to determine the diagnosis. Pre-cancers and certain types of early skin cancer may be treated with topical medications, freezing with liquid nitrogen, a quick “scrape and burn” procedure or other options. Many types of skin cancer require surgery for treatment, such as excision or Mohs micrographic surgery.

Get out there and enjoy that nice weather but be sure to protect your skin from the sun! If you have concerns about skin cancer talk with your primary care provider.

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