Summer skin-protection tips.
One of the best parts of summer is feeling the warmth of the sun. However, it’s wise to take steps to protect your skin, particularly here in the Rockies. It’s not your imagination, the intensity of the sun increases with altitude. This can be a hard lesson to learn. The higher we climb, the less atmosphere (ozone) there is to filter the sun’s energy.
To truly understand sun protection, it’s helpful to differentiate between ultraviolet rays UVA and UVB. UVA is associated with skin-cancer formation, but is mostly responsible for aging the skin. This includes skin thinning and wrinkling. UVA does not vary much throughout the year or time of day. It even penetrates window glass and overcast skies. It does not burn you, but can still have significant long-term damage. UVB, on the other hand, is strongly correlated with skin-cancer formation and is responsible for sunburns. UVB is higher midday; however, it’s more easily filtered out by things such as window glass and clouds. If you have fair skin and you are out all day you can still get burned on a cloudy day because some amount of UVB can make it through a light cloud cover. Also, don’t let the temperature of the day fool you. The sensation of warmth is infrared energy and has little to do with UVA/UVB. We all know we can get sunburned on a clear but cold day.
So, what’s the most reliable, efficient, and cost-effective way to protect our skin from both UVA and UVB? Physically covering up with long-sleeve shirts, wide-brim hats, sun buffs, gloves, and other clothing that is relatively opaque. The new UPF fabrics are nice to have on hot days as they are lighter and cooler than most other fabrics of similar thickness. But any opaque fabric will adequately protect from both UVA/UVB. Where we can’t cover up, mineral-based sunscreens are ideal. These zinc- and titanium-based sunscreens have come a long way in recent years. There are even zinc spray formulations now. It might take some trial and error to find ones that you like. Keep in mind that SPF only rates the strength of UVB, not UVA protection. I use a zinc-based lotion rated at SPF 30 every day on my face, ears, and neck. When going for a ride or hike, I use a zinc-based water-resistant SPF 50.
In summary, I would invest in full-coverage outdoor clothing and accessories, and find some zinc-based sunscreen that you like. Most importantly, make it a habit to apply it in the morning so that you’re ready to go regardless of the activity or destination.
Aaron Bruce, DO, FAAD, FAOCD, FACMS, is a board-certified dermatologist and skin-cancer surgeon.