Summer, Sun, and … Sunscreen! By Tyrie McWilliams, RN.

Wahooo!!!! It’s that time of year again! The highly anticipated, never underestimated, dog days of summer are here! If you’re anything like me, you have been counting down the days until you can bust out the flip flops, dust off your favorite bikini or board shorts, pull out the old pool noodle, and head to the nearest body of water, beach, or over chlorinated pool to take in some sun and fun. Oftentimes, though, one critical item is left off the summertime fun checklist … sunscreen.

The use of sunscreen is beneficial to one’s health in multiple ways. Not only does sunscreen protect you from the harmful radiation produced by the sun; it reduces the risk of painful sunburns, decreases the danger of developing skin cancer, and prevents unwanted premature aging.

The regular application of sunscreen protects your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. Both of these rays are known to trigger harmful changes in the skin. The Skin Cancer Foundation estimates UVA rays account for more than 90 percent of the ultraviolet radiation that reaches the Earth’s massive surface. UVB rays are much less prevalent, but can cause their fair share of skin damage. In fact, UVA and UVB rays both play a part in the development of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and the deadliest of skin cancers, melanoma. For these reasons, The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that everyone protect their skin by wearing sunscreen, regardless of skin type, texture, or tone.

Wearing sunscreen on a consistent and regular basis has been scientifically proven to prevent premature aging. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, sun exposure is responsible for most of the visible aging of your skin!!! As a matter of fact, UV rays from the sun are the primary cause of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation/sun spots, decreased skin elasticity, the breakdown of skin texture, and many other unsightly signs of skin aging. Can you believe it??? An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by exposure to the sun alone. Now that I’ve piqued your interest … people who use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater everyday show 24 percent less skin aging than their counterparts who do not.

The symptoms of sunburn can manifest in several different ways. There may be skin reddening with or without associated pain, extreme swelling, peeling of the skin, or a combination of all three. It is important to know that any of these symptoms are considered the skin cells’ response to prolonged exposure to harmful UV rays. Sunburns, especially those that present with blistering, can cause irreversible skin damage that consequently increases your risk for skin cancer. It is essential to understand that the skin can be harmed by constant sun exposure, whether or not you see a burn. Remember, sunburn is an immediate reaction, but damage from the sun occurs and compounds over a lifetime. In fact, studies have shown that with every subsequent sunburn, you increase your risk for melanoma exponentially.

You can maximize the benefits of sunscreen by choosing the right sunscreen for you, wearing it regularly, and using it as indicated. The American Cancer Society explains that when choosing a sunscreen, one should look for a sunscreen that offers the following details: 1) broad-spectrum UV coverage; 2) sun protection factor, or SPF, of at least 30; 3) a skin cancer/skin aging alert; and 4) is water or very water resistant. As a general rule of thumb, an SPF 15 sunscreen blocks about 95% of UVB rays; an SPF 30 sunscreen blocks approximately 97% of UVB rays; and an SPF 45 sunscreen blocks about 98% of rays. Sunscreens with higher SPF may block slightly more UVB rays, but no sunscreen currently offers 100% protection. In addition, it is necessary to understand sunscreen does not block you from the sun’s harmful rays or last for more than two hours. Also, swimming or sweating can increase the need for more frequent application, possibly requiring reapplication every 40-80 minutes. By carefully reading the label on a product, it is easy to select the best sunscreen for your skin.

At this point you may be asking … BUT is it safe????? According to the American Academy of Dermatology, YES sunscreen is safe to use. Currently, there are no published studies that show that sunscreen is toxic to humans or hazardous to human health. In fact, scientific studies actually support and encourage the daily use of sunscreen.

Well ladies and gents….there you have it! The nitty, gritty, down and dirty facts about sunscreen. Remember, as you fill your beach bag to the absolute brim and head out in search of never ending sand and sun, don’t forget the sunscreen! I’m sure there’s a perfect spot for it right between the beach towels and the watermelon ….