HOW TO SUN SMARTER
with Dr. Nina Desai
Dr. Nina Desai is a board-certified medical and cosmetic dermatologist. She received both her undergraduate degree and medical degree from Brown University. Her passion for understanding skin disease and how the skin heals led her to pursue research fellowships at both Harvard University, and Cornell University where she published numerous papers and book chapters on skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and can take many different forms. Typically, we are looking for moles that are dark, have multiple colors, or look irregular in shape and size. Skin cancer can also have symptoms, such as itchiness or bleeding. Sometimes the features of skin cancer can be more difficult to spot. Therefore, it is very important to have any new or changing spots on your skin examined by a dermatologist.
While skin cancer can affect anyone, there are some risk factors that can predispose one to skin cancer. These include:
- A lighter natural skin color
- Skin that burns, freckles or turns red easily
- Skin that hurts upon exposure to the sun
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- A lot of moles or atypical moles
- A family history of skin cancer
- A personal history of skin cancer
The most common types of skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, which are most often caused by excessive sun exposure/UV radiation and repeated sunburns; however, genetics can also play a role in the development of skin cancer.
UVB and UVA are two types of ultraviolet rays that reach the Earth’s surface. UVB rays are responsible for sunburns on the skin and play the largest role in causing skin cancer. While UVA rays contribute to skin cancer formation, these rays penetrate more deeply into the skin and are responsible for premature skin aging, such as wrinkles, fine lines and photodamage. Therefore, when choosing a sunscreen, it is very important to pick a product that has both UVA and UVB protection.
Physical sunscreens use minerals that sit on top of skin and reﬂect UV rays away. A physical sunscreen is also called a mineral sunscreen and the active ingredients are zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Typically, physical sunscreens are known for leaving a greyish-whitish cast on the skin; however, now there are many elegant, lightweight formulas that rub into the skin making physical sunscreens easier for darker skin types to use. Chemical sunscreens use ingredients that absorb and transform UV rays into heat. Chemical sunscreens should be applied 15 – 30 minutes before going out into the sun, as they need time to absorb.
Most adults will need about one ounce of sunscreen, enough to fill a shot glass and to cover their entire body. The two-finger technique is often used to determine how much sunscreen to apply to the face. Simply squeeze two even lines of SPF along your pointer and middle fingers and apply this amount to your face. It is also very important to re-apply your sunscreen throughout the day.
It is important to wear SPF every day, even on cloudy days as clouds do not block harmful UVA and UVB rays from being absorbed into the skin. When you are indoors, windows also allow UVA rays through. Wearing sunscreen should be a part of your AM routine no matter the weather (or even if you are staying in).
Both physical and chemical sunscreens are very effective. The right sunscreen for you is one that you will use consistently. Make sure your sunscreen has both UVA and UVB protection and has at least an SPF of 30. It’s important to choose a sunscreen with a texture you like so you know you will be consistent and reapply.
A very important DO is to reapply every 2 – 3 hours if you are in the sun. When you get out of a pool or the ocean, it is time to reapply again. Always remember to bring your sunscreen down to your neck, the “V” of the chest and backs of the hands. These areas are often forgotten.
Annual skin checks are very important, as a board-certified dermatologist is trained to spot and remove suspicious moles. By getting our skin checked regularly we are being proactive about taking care of our skin and hopefully identifying abnormal spots early. This provides the opportunity to treat them before they have a chance to become malignant or spread.
- A – asymmetry
- B – borders that are irregular
- C – color changes in the mole, or more than one color in a mole
- D – diameter (growing larger)
- E – evolution (anything that has changed/evolved over time)
- Wear sun-protection UPF clothing
- Avoid being out in the sun between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm (when the sun is the strongest)
- If you must have that sun-kissed glow to your skin, opt for a spray tan or a self-tanning lotion