Written by Dr. Vicki Cirillo-Hyland
The best advice to protect your skin during the summer comes from our Australian colleagues:
“Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide”!
• Slip on protective clothing.
• Slop on sunscreen with SPF 30+.
• Slap on a wide brim hat to shade head, face, and neck.
• Seek shade or shelter, especially during midday hours.
• Slide on wrap-around sunglasses.
The skin is the largest organ in your body, so it’s imperative that you take care of it, especially during the summer when ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure greatly increases. UVR is a proven human carcinogen and increases your risk of skin cancer. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime, and one person dies of malignant melanoma every 57 minutes. The cumulative damage caused by UVR prematurely ages your skin and increases your risk of cataracts, a problem that afflicts more than 20 million Americans over 40.
A tan forms in response to UVR-induced damage to the skin’s DNA. In addition, long-term exposure to sunlight causes premature aging of the skin leading to increased wrinkles, loose skin, brown spots, uneven pigmentation and an unattractive leathery appearance. And that’s why there’s no such thing as a “safe tan.”
Sunscreen is Not Enough
Even “slopping” on sunscreen isn’t the complete answer. Remember SPF (sun protection factor) measures how much the product protects you from the sun’s shorter-wave UVB radiation, but does not guarantee that you’re protected from the more deeply penetrating UVA radiation.
No SPF offers 100% protection. The difference in UVB protection between a SPF 100 and SPF 50 is marginal: SPF 100 blocks 99% of UVB rays, while SPF 50 blocks 98% and SPF 30 blocks 96.7%.
Did you know that to get the SPF advertised, you must use a full shot glass-worth of lotion on your body? Most people apply half that amount. And if you apply only half the recommended amount, your protection level decreases to the square root of the SPF. For example, applying half a shot glass of SPF 70 won’t give you SPF 35 protection, but only the square root of 70 protection—and that’s just SPF 8.4!
Important lessons: wearing enough sunscreen and reapplying it. Skimp and you lose.
Use the Best Protection
The difference between chemical and physical sunscreens is that light is absorbed into the chemical screens but reflected away from the body by physical screens. There are some excellent sunscreen ingredients that help protect you from UVB and UVA radiation, such as the physical screens zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and chemical screens Mexoryl SX/XL, Helioplex and Parsol 1789. The best sunscreens combine both chemical and physical sunscreens. Be sure to read the labels!
Oral supplements such as Heliocare, taken daily while using sunscreen, can reduce UVR-induced damage to the skin. This supplement contains polypodium leucotomos, derived from a fern found in South and Central America. This fern was once an aquatic plant that adapted to life on land and created its own protection from UVR, producing a substance that’s a potent anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant agent. Heliocare is recommended for everyone over 6 who spends time in the sun and highly recommended for all skin cancer patients and those who spend a great deal of time outdoors.
Just Say NO to Tanning Beds!
Final advice: Tanning bed use before the age of 35 increases your risk of malignant melanoma by 75% and use at any age increases that risk by 15%. Consequently, the World Health Organization has put tanning beds on the highest carcinogen list.
But you don’t have to stay out of the sun to be safe. Just remember “Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide”! And if you need to reverse your sun damage, your dermatologist can provide a customized treatment plan. Dr. Cirillo-Hyland, of Cosmetic Dermatology Spa, offers a combination of medical-grade skincare products and treatments, Botox, fillers (Juvéderm, Restylane, Perlane, Belotero, Radiesse, Sculptra), pulsed light, lasers, radiofrequency, and ultrasound to help make you forget the “sun sins” of your youth!
Dr. Cirillo-Hyland, managing partner of Bryn Mawr Skin & Cancer Institute, is the founder and medical director of Cirillo Cosmetic Dermatology Spa. Her practice focuses on early detection and surgical treatment of skin cancer and her other special interest is cosmetic dermatology. Dr. Cirillo-Hyland is a Harvard- and Penn-trained “Top Doc.”