Many Don't Protect Skin from Excessive Sun

Kellie B. Gormly, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Posted May 25, 2012

Gabrielle Bogan of Mars spent about four years as a teenager going to tanning salons as often as 10 times a month.

A health scare -- discovering two moles on her scalp -- prompted Bogan to give up tanning, and become fastidious about skin care and protection.

"I really thought it was cancer. I got very scared," says Bogan, 24. Luckily, the moles were benign.

Now, Bogan, who works in advertising, gets her tan mostly from spray bottles. She applies 30-SPF sunscreen to her arms and face diligently, and wears it as part of her daily, year-round skin care routine, even in winter. Most people, at least those her age, don't seem to use sunscreen that much, Bogan says.

"I believe that people my age are ... in that invincible state, and they don't think that they could ever get skin cancer, but it can happen at any age," says Bogan. She writes the blog "Primp in Pittsburgh" about beauty and fashion, and though she is young, she wants to minimize the sun's aging effects.

Bogan is right, doctors say. Most people aren't protecting their skin from the sun adequately, and with the hot summer coming up, it's a sunburn waiting to happen. A sunburn isn't just painful; it can lead to skin cancer, which is diagnosed in more than 2 million Americans every year, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers -- typically diagnosed as basal-cell carcinoma or squamous-cell carcinoma -- come from exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, foundation statistics say.

But using sunscreen shouldn't be just a seasonal practice: Come October, you're not free from damaging sun rays until the spring, says Dr. Robin Gehris, a pediatric dermatologist.

"I think a lot of the misinformation out there is that you only need sunscreen on bright, sunny days in the summer," Gehris says. She is chief of pediatric dermatologic surgery at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in Lawrenceville, and has offices in Wexford. "It should be part of your daily routine."

Indeed, we do need protection on hot, sunny days, but sunburns can happen year-round -- even on cold winter days, says Gehris, who also is trained in adult dermatology. Some of the worst sunburns can happen while skiing, because of how the light reflects off the snow, she says.

New guidelines for sunscreen from the Food and Drug Administration, which take effect June 18, are intended to help customers buy the best sunscreen for them. The guidelines require more testing and more informative labeling on sunscreen products, including foundation makeup with sunscreen. The SPF number cited on old labels only refers to the product's ability to block burning ultraviolet B rays. However, penetrating ultraviolet A rays cause premature aging, even though they don't cause burns.

Under the new FDA rules, sunscreens that pass a test will be labeled "broad spectrum," indicating they protect from both types of UV rays. Sunscreens and makeup with SPF 14 or less will be required to put a warning on its labels that it helps protect against burns, but not skin cancer or early aging.

Sometimes, Gehris says, people only think of using sunscreen when they are going to a pool or beach, working in the garden, and doing other outdoor activities. But you can get a sunburn walking outside on your lunch break in your work clothes. You can catch the sun's rays while driving in your car or sitting near a window. The same goes for kids and teens, with their tender skin, Gehris says.

"Most people just don't think it's an issue, especially in places like Pittsburgh," she says. On sunny days, we embrace it and say we deserve to get some sun and color, and put our skin at risk for burns from overexposure.

Physicians' standard recommendation is for adults and children to use daily sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15, but Gehris recommends that both adults and kids go higher and use protection with at least 30 SPF. Women should not feel protected merely with foundation makeup, which often has a 15 SPF. Often, people don't wear enough foundation to even get the 15 SPF, she says.

When applying sunscreen, wait a few minutes, preferably 5 to 10, before going outside so that it can be absorbed fully, Gehris says. Re-apply regularly, particularly if you are swimming.

The sun's brightest hours are from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. This is when parents should, whenever possible, keep their children out of the sun -- and sun-sensitive adults should take caution, too, Gehris says.

What kind of sunscreen should you choose? Gehris recommends a non-oily, non-comedogenic sunscreen for everyday use. A day in the garden or at the beach may call for a higher SPF sunblock, which is heavier and has more oil.

Sunscreen comes in both chemical and physical formulas, and Gehris recommends picking the physical ones with ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which form a barrier on the skin. Chemical sunscreens, absorbed by the skin, contain benzones, chemicals that can be irritating and allergenic in children and adults, Gehris says.

©2012 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

Visit The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) at www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib

 
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