Ask Dr. Bailey: Six Tips for Safer Sun Exposure
Tracy sent her question about safer sun exposure via the blog. This was such a good question that I wanted to give her a longer answer everyone could read. Thank you, Tracy!
Dear Dr. Bailey, How do I, as a Caucasian with freckles living in Texas, manage fear and worry around developing melanoma? I’m doing everything I can, wearing sunscreen daily, seeing a dermatologist annually, doing monthly skin checks, etc. but the fear is causing me to avoid the outdoors!
Dear Tracy, I tell my patients that your skin will tell you if a problem is happening. If there is a tan, then the sun is getting through. If there is no tan, it's a great sign you are taking steps toward safer sun exposure and all is well with your sun protection strategy. If you need to be in the sun, our recommendations, as dermatologists, are to wear a proper sun protection hat as well as sun protective clothing. The bucket hats I sell are amazing because they come in lots of colors, can be rolled into a purse, and are inexpensive - so you can afford to have lots of them to match your favorite summer outfits. These hats are also durable so you can use and abuse them and know you will always have coverage. When it comes to stylish summer clothing, Coolibar Clothing offers amazing sun protective clothing options; I wear them for safer sun exposure when I'll be outdoors for prolonged times. They have a nice range of items to fit every occasion. They also sell a sun protective umbrella that I love. I have taken it with me on vacations for years. It blocks the both the UV and heat rays so I'm cool and sun protected when outdoors. While protective clothing can help guard your skin, it’s still essential to keep an eye on your skin for warning signs of over exposure. Your skin will tell you if it’s getting too much. If our skin tans or our freckles darken, we need to work harder at sun protection. If we stay the same color as our doubly protected areas (areas typically covered by two layers of clothing) like the buttocks and breast skin, then we are sun protection pros. Let me just recap the American Academy of Dermatology's sun protection recommendations and my particular twist on them:
- Always use broad spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher, properly reapplied when outdoors for prolonged times. Match the sunscreen to your skin type and activities so you will love your sunscreen and use it daily. I offer a range of sunscreens because I am determined to help people succeed in sun protecting their skin. I recommend zinc oxide sunscreens and you can read why on my sunscreen pages.
- Cover as much of your skin as possible with clothing and hats that offer real sun protection. No skimpy fabrics or ball caps when in the sun. I carry SunGuard fabric treatment to help you know that you are wearing sun protecting fabric. I carry proper and practical sun hats and tell you what a you need in the way of a hat for sun protection.
- Wear UV blocking sunglasses to give extra protection to the delicate eye skin and the eyes themselves.
- Stay in the shade when possible. If necessary, create your own shade with a Coolibar Umbrella. I am so smitten with this umbrella that we sell it in our office for patients. Always seek out shade in any outdoor setting, be it an outdoor patio, a park, etc.
- Try to avoid mid-day sun exposure if at all possible.
- Learn your exposure. I have a UV Detecto Ring for educational purposes. You would be surprised at how UV rays bounce around and get to your skin. You might be impacted even when sitting in a shaded location! Learning to identify when UV exposure is happening is an excellent way to understand how to protect your skin more effectively.
Your skin will give you a 'grade' on how well you've done. Go for 'top of the class', meaning no tan and no freckle darkening! It can be done so keep up the good work until you are a pro. Melanoma is nothing to treat lightly and we work to educate and protect consumers every day to help them reduce their cancer risks. As a cancer survivor myself, this is an extremely important topic to me. When I received my cancer diagnosis, I never thought I could emotionally survive and yet I have found a way to thrive in spite of it. Life really is glorious, even when we are struck with something that is our worst nightmare. Hang in there! You can read my breast cancer story on the blog. Warmly, Cynthia Bailey MD
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