For The Leader
It’s summer – time to test your skin-safety savvy. True or false?
• You need to protect your skin – just what’s exposed — from the sun just when you’re going to be outdoors for several hours.
• Sun protection is only a concern during the summer.
• Sun protection products are all the same; it’s the higher SPF numbers are more effective.
• Sunscreen and sun block are two names for the same thing.
• Skin cancer is extremely rare.
Dr. Alpesh Desai and Dr. Tejas Desai, dermatologists affiliated with Memorial Hermann Greater Heights Hospital, will tell you that the correct answer is “false” to each of those common misconceptions.
First things first: More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than with all other cancers combined. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are the leading cause.
The mutations in DNA that trigger skin cancer start with sunburn or repeated sun exposure, while the cancer itself may not show up until years later. Most people don’t realize that 70 percent to 80 percent of all sun exposure, according to Dr. Tejas Desai, occurs before age 18 – when kids routinely spend a lot of time outdoors.
And UV exposure is not just a summer-in-the-outdoors problem. You’re bombarded with UV rays during daylight hours year ‘round.
So what should you do? The two Drs. Desai strongly recommend protecting your skin all the time – even in the middle of winter or when your sun exposure consists of an occasional stroll to lunch with work colleagues. In Houston, they recommend that people limit summertime sun exposure between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
There are distinct differences in sun protection products. First are the two types: sun screen and sun blocker. Sun screen depends on a chemical reaction to screen out UV rays. Sun block, which both dermatologists strongly recommend, prevents UV rays from being absorbed by the skin.
The second difference is mass-market products versus those available from a dermatologist. The latter – described as cosmeceuticals or dermaceuticals – tend to be organic and have undergone more extensive testing on their efficacy and effect on skin. They come in a number of formulations, including cream, mousse and powder.
Then there’s the question of SPF (sun protection factor). An SPF of 45, or 50 at the most, is all you need. “I’ve seen them labelled as 100 SPF,” says Dr. Tejas Desai, “but you don’t really get twice the protection. Anything above 50 is just marketing.”
The same goes for “baby” products. If a dermaceutical sun block is safe for use by adults, it’s safe for children as well. Considering the early origins of skin cancer, protecting youngsters’ skin is critical.
Many commercial products promise extended protection, but to be effective sun block must be reapplied periodically. Fast-drying blocks are convenient for women who want to apply makeup on top, and makeup brushes infused with sun-block power are available for touch-ups.
Both doctors recommend seeing a dermatologist once or twice a year, a schedule that identifies pre-cancer or cancerous conditions early for the best treatment options.
The goal of these preventative measures is not to keep people inside or bring outdoor recreation to a halt during warm weather, says Dr. Alpesh Desai. “We want people to enjoy their lifestyles and be wise outside.”
To learn more, visit us online www.memorialhermann.org.