Sun Safety Involves more than Sunscreen

June 8, 2015

Dr. Stacie Rougas

Dr. Stacie Rougas

Dr. Stacie Rougas, a Mercy Clinic dermatologist, wants people to know one thing above all: There is no way to tan safely.

“I don’t ever tell my patients not to live an active life,” she said. “I tell my patients to be smart about the life they want to live.”

Being smart includes the well-known recommendations – don’t use tanning beds, wear sunscreen and reapply every hour – but it also includes some lesser-known sun safety advice.

No such thing as a base tan

“Going to the tanning bed to get a little bit brown to prevent yourself from burning on vacation is just increasing your risk,” Rougas said.

Melanoma and tanning beds

Melanoma, which is the most serious form of skin cancer, is one of the most common cancers among 15 to 29 year olds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Although melanoma accounts for only three percent of skin cancer cases, it is responsible for 75 percent of skin cancer deaths.

“Melanoma is on the upswing primarily because that age group feels they’re invincible,” Rougas said. “Their use of tanning beds is increasing their risk of skin cancer and premature aging.”

Sunscreen strength

If a person plans on spending time in the sun, Rougas recommends wearing SPF 30 or higher sunscreen. SPF 30 is suggested because it filters out 97 percent of UVB rays. A sunscreen with SPF 50 protects 98 percent. The biggest issue is the reapplication. Most people can remember to use their sunscreen but forget to reapply frequently. New recommendations call for reapplication of sunscreen once every hour.

Medication risks

Some common medications, some antibiotic such as doxycycline as well as other medications such as acne medications (Retin A and Accutane), increase sunburn risk.  Although people differ in their responses, those who take these medications should be extra careful when outdoors.

Clothing and the sun

An old T-shirt may be comfortable to wear at the beach or pool, but it won’t block sunlight.

“Your regular T-shirt does not protect you from the sun,” Rougas said. “Sunlight filters through the fabric.”

Anyone who plans on being in the sun should consider buying sun protective clothes that block out the sun’s harmful rays using chemicals or special absorbent molecules.

“It works fantastically and is easily available at most athletic stores. It is commonly known as rash guards and should have a UV protection factor listed on the label,” Rougas said.

Vitamin D

Those who are worried about getting enough vitamin D shouldn’t be concerned. A discussion with their doctor regarding their risk factor for low vitamin D levels is always appropriate but that needs to be balanced with their risk for skin cancer.

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