Saving Your Own Skin

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It’s another scorching Texas summer with record highs and a sizzling sun so blazing hot you’re no doubt thirsty for knowledge (bad pun intended) on how best to protect yourself from its evil rays, especially when you’re outside enjoying all Austin has to offer.

Skin cancer kills more than 1 million people each year and is the most common form of cancer in the country. Sun exposure is the leading cause of 90 percent of skin-cancer cases. The good news? It can be prevented by protecting your skin with a good broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Sunscreens protect the skin by either absorbing or reflecting UVA and UVB rays, depending on their ingredients. A sunscreen’s SPF number only indicates the relative amount of sunburn protection it provides (when used correctly). In other words, a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 does not provide half the protection of a sunscreen with an SPF of 30. Rather, an SPF of 15 protects the skin from 93 percent of UVB radiation, while an SPF of 30 protects from 97 percent of UVB radiation.

Sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 are highly recommended by experts. Be aware that SPF ratings on a label apply to UVB rays, which impact the surface of the skin and cause sunburn. Some manufacturers are also including ingredients that protect the skin from UVA rays, which deeply penetrate the skin and contribute to premature aging. Labeled as “broad-spectrum” sunscreens, these provide superior protection when applied correctly.

Bear in mind that midday sun – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. – is the strongest. Try to limit your time outside during these hours, particularly in Central Texas where the midday summer sun can be incredibly intense. But if you’re going to spend a lot of time outside on the lake, participating in sports or taking in three days of outdoor entertainment at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, prepare your skin for the brutal onslaught of the sun’s harmful rays. Be proactive and maximize your protection from the sun by using a broad- spectrum sunscreen rated SPF 15 or higher, wearing tightly woven clothing, sporting sunglasses with 99 to 100 percent UVA/UVB protection and seeking a patch of shade when possible. Even on cloudy days sunburn is possible; 80 percent of UV rays pass through clouds. So make it a life-long habit to carry and apply sunscreen daily, as it is impossible to avoid the sun.

I know it’s heartbreaking to you sun bunnies out there, but there is no such thing as a “healthy” suntan. Any change in your natural skin color is a sign of damage and every time your skin color changes after sun exposure, your risk of developing sun-related skin cancer increases greatly.

Here’s how you can minimize your exposure: Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going into the sun to give it time to absorb into the skin. (Make sure you’re not using expired sunscreens.) Apply a generous amount and then reapply every two hours. Sunscreens that are “water resistant” (a term held to certain Food and Drug Administration standards) will maintain their SPF after 40 minutes of water immersion, while “very water resistant” sunscreens will maintain their SPF after 80 minutes of water immersion. Either way, reapplying is crucial if you are perspiring heavily, immersed in water or simply toweling off – all actions that remove the sunscreen’s protective layer.

Studies show that even if you use the best sunscreen and the proper amount, you may block only 55 percent of UV rays’ free-radical production. So while sunscreens help limit sun damage by blocking the sun’s rays, it is also important to apply topical antioxidants for additional protection and bind those free radicals.

I recommend a serum that contains antioxidants. Apply it directly to the skin at bedtime to “correct” any sun damage that occurred throughout the day, and to prevent further complications and premature aging. Look for serums containing Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Ferulic acid is often added for improved results. A brand I highly endorse is SkinCeuticals, which has repeatedly developed the most cutting-edge, well-researched skin-care products. SkinCeuticals is available at most dermatologists’ offices, med spas and many locations in Austin. Ask a skin-care professional to help you find the right match of sunscreens and corrective serums for your skin type.

Remember, take steps to protect your skin and you will significantly minimize your chances of developing skin cancer in the future. Care for your skin now and stay beautiful for years to come.

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