Take Precautions to Protect Against Sun Damage in the Summer Months | Vital Signs | UCLA Health
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D E RM AT O LO G Y Take Precautions to Protect Against Sun Damage in the Summer Months While everyone knows about the importance of protecting the skin from the summer sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, two UCLA dermatologists point out that many are not as diligent as they should be — either because they are not mindful of the long-term risks or because they are unknowingly failing to take all protective measures. “The ultraviolet rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm, so if you’re going to be physically active outside, it’s always best to do it before or after this timeframe,” says Jenny Hu, MD, a UCLA dermatologist and skin-cancer surgeon who sees patients in Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village. It is also best to always seek shade, she adds. Just as sunscreen comes with sun protection factor (SPF) numbers (a measure of its ability to protect from the sun’s UVB rays, the type that cause sunburns and skin cancer), an ultraviolet protective factor (UPF) is now often attached to clothing made with fabric that shields from the harmful rays. As with SPF, the higher the number, the more protective it is. Sunglasses and protective clothing are also important. Long sleeves and long pants, as well as a broad-brimmed hat, are recommended. Although fair-skinned people are at the highest risk for the damaging effects of the sun, everyone should take protective measures, says Melvin Chiu, MD, a UCLA dermatologist in Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks. “People with dark skin aren’t immune from the sun’s effects, including skin cancer,” notes Dr. Chiu, who also stresses the importance of protection even on cloudy days, since ultraviolet radiation will penetrate the cloud cover. Drs. Hu and Chiu urge anyone going outside during the day to apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 that is both water-resistant and broad spectrum to protect against both UVA and UVB rays — those that contribute to premature aging of the skin as well as those that can cause skin cancer. The sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before going into the sun so it has a chance to settle UCLAHEALTH.ORG 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (1-800-825-2631) into the skin. It is also important that it be applied correctly. “Too often people will just cover their face,” says Dr. Hu. “Sunscreen should be used on all exposed areas, including the neck, chest, hands, arms, legs, feet, ears for people with short hair, and scalp for people with a loss of hair or thinning hair.” Dr. Chiu adds that many people fail to use enough sunscreen. Covering all exposed areas typically requires an ounce, or about the equivalent of what would fit in the palm of the hand. It is also vital to reapply every two hours and immediately after swimming or sweating. The cumulative effects of unprotected sun exposure include both cosmetic damage — early wrinkling, pigmentation and sunspots — and, more important, the risk of skin cancer. “I have many patients with multiple skin cancers who look back and wish they had been more diligent about their sun protection,” Dr. Chiu says. “I encourage younger patients to protect themselves so that they won’t face these problems down the road, and I tell these older patients that even if you’ve had a lot of sun exposure in the past, the effects keep adding up and so it’s never too late to be more vigilant.”