Health: Do’s and don’ts for summer sunscreens

BARBARAELLEN KOCH FILE PHOTO | Summertime at Iron Pier Beach in Northville.

It’s Fourth of July weekend and locals and visitors alike are touring grapevines and splashing in local waters – marking the official kickoff of summer on the North Fork.

Carrie Miller
Carrie Miller

While you’re out having fun in the sun, it’s important to remember to protect your skin.

“It is the largest organ of the body and the gateway into your internal system,” said Dr. Mitchell Meyerson, a dermatologist in Riverhead with 16 years’ experience.

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, accounting for almost half of all cancers in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. Most people have heard of melanoma, the most harmful type of skin cancer, but there are several other types that can develop, Dr. Meyerson said.

Damage is caused by the sun’s UVA rays, which cause wrinkling and sunspots, and UVB rays, which are what burn the skin, according to the American Cancer Society.

“It has been know that UVB are the very damaging rays. But in the last five to 10 years, it was found that cumulative exposure to UVA rays is supposedly just as bad,” Dr. Meyerson said.

One reason why, he said,  is that the more damaging UVB rays are blocked by glass, while UVA rays are not.

“And we see a lot more skin damage on the left side of the face or arm because of all those years of driving,” he said.

So whether you’re out for a joyride or digging your toes in the sand, sunscreen is a necessity.

When choosing sunscreen, look for one that offers protection from both types of rays.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has changed sunscreen labeling language from “UVA and UVB protection” to “broad spectrum,” but they mean about the same thing, Dr. Meyerson said.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends choosing an SPF of at least 30, higher than its initial recommendation of SPF 15.

“When moving from SPF 15 to SPF 30, we think there is a significant increase in protection factor,” Dr. Meyerson said.

He noted that higher SPFs tend to be more costly, but don’t necessarily offer that much more protection.

While lotions, creams and sprays are all OK, the doctor cautioned that they need to be applied  properly.

“I think they are all good but there is a misconception about sprays. They are easier to put on but people don’t realize they still need to be rubbed in,” he said. “They spray little dots, and there are openings between those dots. You’re going to have areas that are missed.”

When swimming or sweating for more than 15 minutes, be sure to reapply, he cautioned.

The sun’s rays are not the only trigger for skin cancer, which can develop even on parts of the body that have not been exposed to the sun, he explained.

It’s also important to know your skin.

“Know your moles. Knows your growths,” Dr. Meyerson said. “You want to do self-exams. If you see anything changing in size, shape, or color or a new growth, you should  get it checked.

“Early detection is vital, especially in dermatology,” he said.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected].

Follow her on twitter @carriemiller01.

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