Here's how to guard skin from summer sun

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After months of unrelenting precipitation and thick cloud cover, the first signs of sun beckon like a siren song. Just this once, you think, I'll forego the sunscreen and get my healthy glow on. What harm can a few lovely UV rays do?

Plenty.

As we cross the threshold into summer — ready to dive in to gardening, water skiing, river rafting and other outdoor pleasures — it's good to go forth armed with some basic knowledge of how to protect your skin, in and out of the sun.

If you have specific questions about skin conditions, consult a physician. If it's a non-urgent question or minor problem, a good place to start is with your primary care provider. He or she can assess your concerns and refer you to a specialist if needed. If you don't have a physician, Providence has three clinic locations in Southwest Washington.

Listed below is information from Providence's medical experts to help protect your skin throughout this summer and beyond.

Sunscreen vs. sunblock: They do not work the same way, and skin experts recommend you slather on both before spending any time in the sun. Sunscreen, defined as chemical sunscreen, contains ingredients that absorb UV radiation. Sunblock, defined as physical sunscreen, contains ingredients such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide that physically block, or reflect, UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen first. Sunblock reflects most UV light, and what penetrates the sunblock can be absorbed by sunscreen.

SPF: SPF, or sun protection factor, measures a product's ability to shield you from the sun's harmful rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30 or greater. What is most important, however, is applying the correct amount — and reapplying it frequently enough for continuous protection. For your face, apply a marble-sized amount, and for your body, a golf-ball-sized amount. The sun's rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so be sure to reapply your sun protection — water resistant or not — every two hours during this time. Choose broad-spectrum protection — for both UVA and UVB rays — and pick a water-resistant product for extra staying power.

Makeup: Much of the makeup currently on the market for women contains SPF. Experts warn, however, that it may not be enough by itself. If you spend your days mainly indoors, a light SPF — such as 15 — is sufficient. But if you spend more than 30 minutes at a stretch outdoors, stronger protection is needed. Make sure to use a moisturizer with SPF, and apply your makeup over that. If you don't put on enough, you're not really reaping the numeric SPF benefits advertised.

Chemical reaction: The argument that the chemicals in sunscreen are more dangerous than sun exposure doesn't get any support from skin experts. The bottom line: exposing yourself to the chemicals in sunscreen is far less risky than going up against the sun without protection.

For your kids: While some skin experts recommend chemical-free sunscreen for children younger than 5, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorses the use of any sunscreen for children. They also recommend keeping children 6 months old and younger out of the sun altogether. For added protection, outfit your children with hats, sunglasses and rash guards, or "rashies" — specially made swim shirts that offer added protection from the sun.

Food for your skin: What you eat can benefit your skin. Foods rich in antioxidants — such as vitamins A, C and E, beta-carotene and zinc — can help protect against skin cancer. Skin-friendly foods include fish — especially salmon; beans, peas and lentils; carrots, apricots, pumpkin and other yellow and orange fruits and vegetables; and broccoli, cabbage, chard and spinach. Soy and flaxseed also have been found to stem the spread of skin cancer. Foods that contain flavonoids and resveratrol — found in tomatoes, apples, blueberries, cherries and grapes, as well as wine and dark chocolate — also demonstrate protective qualities.

Fatten up the right way: Your body needs some fat to stay healthy. A diet too low in fat can strip your skin and leave you looking unhealthy. Choose foods rich in polyunsaturated fats first — such as nuts, seeds, legumes and fish; then monounsaturated fats, found in foods such as avocados, nuts and a variety of oils, including olive, peanut, canola, sunflower and sesame. Consume saturated fats as a last dietary resort, and limit your overall fat intake to less than 30 percent of your daily calorie consumption.

Get your beauty sleep: It's no old wives' tale, and while it may be difficult to do consistently, getting adequate sleep every night — seven to eight hours — can help give your body time to regenerate and rejuvenate. Some of the pitfalls of too little sleep include the presence of stress hormones, which inflame and irritate your skin, speeding up the aging process; dehydration, which can lead to a dull complexion; and greater skin sensitivity, as skin that hasn't properly rested isn't up to the task of fending off potentially harmful environmental pollutants.

Sunshine in your diet: Science shows you need vitamin D to thrive, but experts suggest getting it through your diet instead of from the sun. Fortified food and drink, as well as supplements, can get your body what it needs without exposing your skin to sun damage. If you think you're D deficient, talk to your health care provider about your options.

Know your body and history: Conduct regular skin self-exams. The American Academy of Dermatology will walk you through it. If something looks suspicious, make an appointment with your health care provider or dermatologist. If you've been sunburned more than five times in your lifetime, have fair skin or have an abundance of freckles or moles, you have a greater risk of developing skin cancer.