Protecting Yourself from the Sun

Sun, glorious sun, finally buoys days above the 45th parallel. While it’s tempting to expose as much skin as possible to the daystar, dermatologists such as Spokane’s Dr. Peter Boothman, M.D., of Clinic 5C / OPTIM Clinic, note that melanoma is on the rise. “Incidents of melanoma have doubled in the 30 years between 1982 and 2001,” says Boothman, an Eastern Washington native. “While the official recommendation is to wear SPF 30 sunscreen when outside, I recommend SPF 50.”

The FDA approves three sunscreen types. Physical or mineral sunscreens reflect the sun. Chemical sunscreens prevent skin from absorbing damaging rays (ingredients absorb instead). Combination screens are a blend of chemical and physical blockers.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, “Millions of people are diagnosed with a common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, each year.” It can look like a pimple or a sore or even an age spot. Four common skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Markel cell cancer, and melanoma.

“Early signs of skin cancer include seeing a spot, new or changing,” says Boothman. “I tell people to use the ABCDE’s. A, asymmetrical jagged border growing unevenly; B, border growing irregularly; C, colors (different colors) on the same lesion; D, the diameter is bigger than a pencil eraser; and E, evolution of a rapidly changing, growing, bleeding or painful and red sore like a pimple that doesn’t heal.”

Experts explain that everyone should self-check monthly. If they discover a dark spot or growth, or a sore that won’t heal, they should make a dermatological appointment. Additionally, sores that appear in a scar or dark line under or around finger and toe nails should be examined by a physician. Even places that receive little sun such as under a swimsuit as well as feet bottoms should be included in a self-exam. People often forget that their scalp is susceptible to the sun’s power—hair stylists can help check for scalp irregularities.

Dermatologists’ skin protection rules include applying sunscreen to dry skin every two hours if outside. Reapply after swimming or sweating. Use broad-spectrum and water-resistant sunscreen and lip sunscreen.

Boothman emphasizes that large-brimmed hats and “sun-protective clothing is even better than sunscreen.” Even though some social media sites suggest that humans need more vitamin D from the sun, Boothman says, “The need for vitamin D sun exposure is overstated. Excellent supplements are available should your physician suggest additional vitamin D.”

When choosing sunscreen, organizations such as Ocean Society encourage reef-safe sunscreens to avoid bleaching coral reefs. “The scale of the problem is significant,” notes Ocean Society’s website. “Scientists estimate that between 6,000 and 14,000 tons of sunscreen—the equivalent of 25 to 60 million bottles—wash off of snorkelers and swimmers into coral reef environments each year.”

The group suggests using lotions without the oxybenzone and octinoxate found in some chemical sunscreens. They consider reef-safe sunscreen ingredients to include non-micronized zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. Both Hawaii and Key West, Flor., have banned oxybenzone and octinoxate sunscreens. As you recreate, consider what’s best for your skin and our environment. //

Jean Arthur

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