Keeping skin protected during sunny days
Imagine a nice, relaxing day at the beach with the sun beaming down and a cool drink in hand. There’s good
music playing and you don’t have a care in the world. But then you start to feel not-so-relaxed as you sense a burning sensation on your skin.
By the time you reach this point, damage to your skin cells has already been done, said Justin Hustoft, assistant physics professor at Mount Mary University.
“Ultraviolet light in enough intensity can kill cells and can kill bacteria,” Hustoft said. “If you get sunburnt, that means you burned the outer layer of skin.”
The UV light emitted from the sun enhances the body’s ability to produce necessary vitamins; however, too much direct exposure to UV light can cause major skin damage, even skin cancer.
Hustoft said that skin cancer and other sun-related problems are more common now.
“Over the years of industrial use we’ve damaged the ozone layer, so there’s been a reduction in the strength (of UV absorption) so more UV light gets through,” Hustoft said.
Linda Lee, dermatologist for Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa and The Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, works with adults who have a number of different skin issues. A large number of those patients are being seen for sun-related skin issues.
“Percentage wise, probably 50-60 percent have problems related to sun exposure,” Lee said.
In addition to man-made changes in the ozone layer, social trends have had an effect on the rate of skin cancer diagnosis.
“Rates have increased because we go out sun tanning,” Hustoft said. “Your tan indicates damage and interferes with cell function.”
Hustoft said that once cells have been damaged, those damaged cells replicate and these “unregulated” cells form into what’s later diagnosed as a cancerous tumor.
“Not each cancer or health problem is preventable, but if we minimize our risk then we can feel comfortable that we did the best job we could,” Lee said.
Zakia Wells, a junior majoring in art therapy at Mount Mary, said, “I really only put sunscreen on if I know I’m gonna be in the sun a lot. If I’m out going to the pool I put it on.”
Emily Guerra, a senior majoring in art therapy, said that her only method of sunblock is sunscreen lotion, used when going to big fairs or walking in downtown Chicago.
Lee said many dermatologists give their patients different recommendations for how to prevent skin damage from the sun; she tells her patients to try and avoid peak sun hours.
“The second best way (to prevent sun damage) is to wear sun protective gear,” Lee said.
Lee said that there is gear with UV protection labels for those who play sports or other outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.
“Glass is another known physical barrier of UV light,” Hustoft said. “You can’t get a suntan through a window pane!”
Lee’s recommended applying a broad spectrum sunscreen that’s mineral-based.
“The efficacy of the sunscreen depends on the ingredients, age, how much you put on, how much washes away by sweat or water, and how frequently you reapply,” Lee said.
Lee said that there are even simpler, more effective measures to sun protection besides sunscreen, such as wearing sun blocking accessories: sunglasses, brimmed hats and outerwear with longer sleeves.
Hustoft said that because extensive unprotected UV exposure leads to skin damage, anyone can get sunburn anywhere. There’s risk of skin damage even during winter due to water and subsequently, snow’s ability to reflect light.
“I’ve had sunburn in places that I thought were covered because they weren’t exposed to direct sunlight but indirect sunlight,” Hustoft said.
Wanting to protect the skin from serious damage shouldn’t be difficult or annoying.
“Try to see what equatorial countries and cultures have done over history to protect themselves from the sun because the measures are so simple,” Lee said.
Getting sunlight is necessary for the body’s production of Vitamin D, but after that periodof production, which Hustoft said is about 15 minutes, external methods of protection should be practiced.
“It’s not something to be afraid of,” Hustoft said. “We should have fun and do our outdoor activities and be comfortable with it.”