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Dermatologist gives tips for protecting skin from summer sun

 Colorful bottles of sunscreen spray and sunscreen lotion sit on the shelves of a supermarket in blue boxes labeled "sun care"
Anna Spidel
Sunscreen lines the shelves of a supermarket in Columbia, MO. There are two main types of sunscreens - mineral and chemical. Dr. Kari Martin said that chemical sunscreens are often easier to rub in and "people like the feel of them better in general", but mineral sunscreens "tend to be tolerated a little bit better" for people with sensitive skin.

It’s summertime, and that means more opportunities to spend time in the sun. But with research showing that sun exposure can increase the risk of developing skin cancer, experts say it’s essential to be aware of ways to protect the skin from harmful UV rays.

The DNA within skin cells becomes damaged when exposed to UVA and UVB raysthat are emitted by the sun, which can lead to skin cancer and premature aging. Although the sun emits UV rays year round, sun exposure can increase during the summer monthswhen days are longer and people are more likely to spend time outdoors. Dr. Kari Martin, a dermatologist with MU Health Care, said that protecting the skin from these UV rays goes beyond wearing sunscreen.

“Sunscreen should be really your last resort, your last level of protection,” Martin said. “Avoiding that peak hour of Sun between like 10 to two when it's the most intense, that's your first kind of strategy - your first level of protection - then after that finding shade where you can.”

Although properly wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen is an effective method of sun protection, Dr. Martin said that limiting sun exposure is the best way to ensure that UV rays are not coming into contact with the skin. By wearing protective clothing and staying out of direct sunlight, the amount of skin that needs to be covered by sunscreen can be reduced.

“The third level [of protection] is some protective clothing, which has come a long ways," Martin said. "There's lots of really good brands out there now that make some protective clothing, so shirts or a shawl or hat, sunglasses. And then really sunscreen should be that last, that fourth level of protection. So you should use that for any skin that's exposed beyond those first three levels of protection.”

Even when wearing protective clothing and reducing time in the sun, Dr. Martin said that using sunscreen is still recommended to guarantee that any exposed skin is protected from UV rays. But when it comes to wearing sunscreen, she said it’s important to be aware of what kind of sunscreen you are using and how often you reapply it.

“In general, it's recommended that you use an SPF of 30 or higher and it needs to be reapplied about every two hours," Martin said. "Quicker than that if you are sweating a lot or if you are in and out of a pool or the lake."

In addition to practicing the “four strategies” for sun protection, Dr. Martin said that there are many sun protection myths that should be avoided.

“There are some common myths we still see," Martin said. "And some of them are, you know, 'I need a base tan before I go on this trip.' Or, 'If I get some tan, then I won't burn. So that's healthier for my skin.' But we have lots of evidence to show that even a tan is a sign of damage on the skin. And that can predispose you in the long run for increased rates of skin cancer."

As for concerns about a lack of vitamin D from not spending enough time in the sun, Dr. Martin said that this is merely another myth.

"Our skin does help produce pre vitamin D into vitamin D, but it does so in a pretty limited manner,” Martin said. “So really, we need to be getting it from our diet or dietary supplements.”

Anna Spidel is a health reporter for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. A proud Michigander, Anna hails from Dexter, Michigan and received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Michigan State University in 2022. Previously, she worked with member station Michigan Radio as an assistant producer on Stateside.
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