Dermatologist’s simple trick to test your sun exposure.

Cynthia Bailey, MD|September 24, 2009

I’m outdoors whenever I can be. My skin is fair, and as a dermatologist I know how important it is to limit my sun exposure. I’m almost never outside without a hat, sunscreen and sun protective clothing.........except mornings on my patio. Today it’s 10:30 in the morning and I’m still out here. I’ve gotten caught up on my computer, I’m in my bathrobe writing this and I don’t have on sun screen. My patio faces west and technically I’m in the shade, but I know that doesn’t always mean I’m sun protected. Am I ‘throwing caution to the wind’? Am I going to end up with darker age spots because I’m out here unprotected (not to mention skin cancer, but that’s a less immediate consequence)? I’ve done this for years and I think I’m getting away with it, but the act of writing my blog entry makes me think I should know my sun exposure for sure. I’m going to test it right now. I go get my key chain, where I keep a ‘Detecto Ring’ and bring it outside. It's an old Detecto Ring and the beads are almost worn out. The uv sun exposure detecting beads barely color up.  I compare that to the beads color in full sun and there is a big difference so I know the sun intensity is a lot less on my patio. Detecto Ring 10:30am Detecto Ring Full Sun 10:30am Boy am I glad! I love sitting outside on my patio at 7:30am every morning in the summer, have my tea, read the paper and work on my computer. I’m not a real morning person and I sure don’t want to wash my face and put sunscreen on before I’ve had my tea. Today I’m still out here at 10:30 and the California summer sun is getting intense. I have trees and wisteria over the patio and I’ve always assumed that I’m fairly sun protected, but honestly I’ve never tested my assumption until today. Plastic UV detecting beads are a great trick for checking uv ray sun exposure. They’re plastic beads made of uv sensing material and they will turn color 50,000 times in response to uv sun rays. I’ve used them to test a lot of situations where I wondered about my sun exposure. I can test fabric on garments, and in fact, one of the sun protection shirts I had been using for about a year did not fully block the sun, the beads turned color and I knew the shirt needed to be replaced. I’ve tested my exposure to reflected sun light at an outdoor café, through my tinted windows at the office etc. I keep the little beads on my key chain so they ‘re handy. I call the combination of the beads and ring the Detecto Ring and it’s available on my web site. Of course the beads aren’t a medical device that can promise total accuracy, but I find that they’re a great tool to test my assumptions about my sun exposure. (Kids really get a kick out of them too.)  Certainly if they color up I know I’m being exposed to uv sun rays and there have been times where I thought I was sun safe but I wasn’t. Sun exposure does more than increase our risk of getting skin cancer, it also causes most of the age related changes on our skin like wrinkles, liver spots, sun freckles and the brownish red color on the sides of the neck and mid chest. For the past 20 years, I’ve been seriously committed to sun protection and preventing more sun damage and liver spots from forming on my fair skin. I had way too much sun as a kid and young adult. As a teen, no blistering sun burn ever kept me from trying to tan. Unfortunately, neither did my grandmothers good advice or the scary skin tumor that grew on my leg when I was 15. I started getting wrinkles and age spots in my 20’s and in my early 30’s I got serious about sun protecting my fair, Fitzpatrick type 2 skin . Now, I’m nearly perfect about sunscreen and sun protection. The one exception is in the mornings on my patio. Glad my Detecto Beads didn’t color up! Now, at 11am, the beads are starting to color up a little, time to go inside and put on sun screen. Detecto Ring at 11am On my next post, I’ll describe my own personal skin care program to lighten and prevent age spots (aka sun freckles, liver spots, solar lentigos), and treat uneven pigmentation on my middle age, sun damaged skin. I’ve tried just about everything available and I’ll tell you what I’ve found that works the best.

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