By Dr. Allison Kaplan
Q: “Living in Arizona, I know that sun protection is extremely important. There are so many sun screens to choose from. As a parent, what should I be looking for in the SPF number and is there a difference between the lotions and the sprays?” – Crystal, Phoenix
A: Metropolitan Phoenix is known for its year-round sunshine, blue skies, and outdoor activities.That’s why it’s so important to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays, astoo much sun exposure can cause dehydration, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, sun poisoning, electrolyte imbalances, and sunburns.
Just a few serious sunburns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Kids don’t have to be at the pool, or on vacation to get too much sun. Their skin needs protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays whenever they’re outdoors.
You can protect yourself and your family by staying hydrated and using sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 with UVA and UVB protection every time you go outside to protect against sunburn, skin cancer, and early skin aging. For the best protection, apply sunscreen generously 30 minutes before going outdoors. Don’t forget to protect ears, noses, lips, and the tops of feet. Be sure to reapply sunscreen every hour after exercising, or after being in the water.
Follow the directions on the sunscreen bottle, especially when using a sunscreen product on babies less than six months old. All products do not have the same ingredients; if your or your child’s skin reacts badly to one product, try another one or call a doctor. Your baby’s best defense against sunburn is avoiding the sun or staying in the shade.
Sunscreen sprays, lotions, and sticks can all do an equally-solid job of protecting you from the wrinkle- and cancer-causing effects of UV rays. All three have certain advantages that might make one a better fit for your skin type and lifestyle. It really comes down to which type you prefer.
When you’re outdoors, wear sunscreen, sunglasses, hats, and protective clothing to protect your skin. If you can, limit how long you are in the sun, as 15 minutes is enough time to damage unprotected skin. Be sure to reapply sunscreen after a few hours, after exercising, or after being in the water.
To help keep skin safe this summer, practice these sun-safe habits:
- Limit exposure to the sun. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest and limit how long you’re in the sun the other times. If this is not possible, seek shade under a tree, an umbrella, or a pop-up tent.
- Wear sunscreen daily. Even when only spending a couple of minutes in the sun, wear sunscreen with an SPF 15 or more. Reapply sunscreen when outside for extended periods of time, as sunscreen can easily wear off.
- Wear protective clothing. In conjunction with sunscreen, lightweight clothing that covers the entire body, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses can help to minimize sun exposure. In general, darker, drier fabrics will have a stronger SPF than white fabrics, and some manufacturers produce clothing with specific UV protection.
- Spot the skin concern. Make a point to regularly examine your skin. Look for changes in moles, such as the spread of pigmentation beyond its border, or changes in sensation, such as itchiness, pain or tenderness. Another indication may be may be a red, scaly patch on the skin that does not heal. If you notice any abnormalities, make an appointment to see a physician immediately.
Sunburns can be treated by drinking a lot of fluids, applying aloe and fragrance-free lotions, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers. If a sunburn blisters, it is considered a second-degree burn and should be evaluated and treated by a medical professional.
Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays should be just as top-of-mind as drinking a lot of water to stay hydrated. Both are key to surviving the Valley’s summers!
Allison Kaplan, M.D., is board-certified family medicine physician at Desert Grove Family Medical, and is on the medical staff of Mountain Vista Medical Center where she is also an instructor with the hospital’s residency program. To book an appointment with Dr. Kaplan, visit desertgrove.net or call 480-834-7546.