Sun's Out, Fun's Out

Protecting your skin this summer. 

It’s summer in Montana, so naturally we’ll be spending additional time outdoors. How can we do so safely? It’s important to balance the benefits of outdoor time with appropriate protection from the sun. 

Why is UV from the sun harmful?
Ultraviolet radiation—both UVB and UVA—from the sun or from tanning machines is on the U.S. government’s list of known carcinogens. UVB is the “burning ray” and it increases during the summer months. It causes sunburn and skin cancers. UVA is the “tanning ray” which persists all year, even in winter, on cloudy days, and in the shade. It is a longer wavelength and penetrates the skin deeper, creating significantly more damage than UVB. UVA rays are able to pass through window glass; while sitting next to a window, you are being exposed to harmful UVA radiation. UVA causes photo-aging—wrinkles and liver spots—and skin cancers. 

What about sunblock? Is it all the same?
Sunscreens contain chemicals that absorb ultraviolet radiation. Sunblocks contain Zinc Oxide or Titanium Dioxide that physically reflect and scatter ultraviolet radiation. In general, sunblocks provide a broader spectrum of ultraviolet protection and are better than sunscreens. 

What does “SPF” really mean?
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) measures the length of time a product protects against skin reddening from UVB, compared to skin without protection. The SPF rating system is only a determination of protection from UVB rays. It does not address a sunscreen’s protective capability from harmful UVA radiation. A sunscreen with an SPF of 45 is not three times stronger than an SPF of 15. A product with an SPF of 15 blocks 93% of all UVB rays, while sunscreens 30 and higher block 97%.


How can you protect yourself?
All this isn’t to say you should spend you summers indoors. There are ways to protect yourself from the sun, and it’s important to select a method that suits your lifestyle. Options include:
-Avoid the sun 10am-3pm
-Wear protective clothing with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 50
-Wear sunglasses with UVA/UVB protection
-Wear wide-brimmed hats
-Apply a broad-spectrum UVA/UVB sunblock / lip balm 30 minutes before going outside; reapply every two hours

This summer, enjoy your time outside—just remember appropriate sun protection and don’t forget to reapply. In addition to sun protection, think about annual full-skin checks and monthly self-skin checks. Early recognition is key to prevention and treatment.

Teresa Mann is the owner of Pure Dermatology in Bozeman.