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Summer and Sunscreen– a Perfect Match


Summer and Sunscreen– a Perfect Match

By Richard Fleming, MD

Summer is now officially here. No one knows for sure how hot it will get this year. But we know for a fact that many people will take advantage of the long days to bake in the sun. Whether in the park or the backyard, at the pool or the beach, people love to bask in the sun. While the sun’s rays do have some health benefits, those same rays can also cause problems. Too much sun exposure can lead to premature aging of the skin. But most concerning, of course, is that excess sun can lead to skin cancer.

So, what is a body to do? Limiting one’s time in the sun is good. Wearing hats and sun protective clothing can help. And wearing sunscreen on exposed body parts is very important. People of all skin colors can benefit from sunscreen, though lighter skinned people benefit the most. But many people do not use sunscreen at all, or do not use the right kinds of sunscreen. Let’s look at these issues briefly.

A study was recently published in a major medical journal for dermatologists which showed that less than half of women and fewer than one out of five men regularly use sunscreen on their face. This study distressed me. Primary care doctors spend a lot of time trying to educate our patients about the importance of sunscreen. But it seems our message is not getting through. Our words are bouncing off people more than the sun’s rays we are warning about. Since it seems our warnings about skin cancer are not getting through, maybe we need to talk more about premature skin aging. It is true that people who bake in the sun every summer have older-looking skin than those who avoid this activity. Maybe this is a better way to talk about sunscreen?

When using sunscreen, it is important to buy one which is labelled “broad spectrum.” The most effective sunscreens are those which protect against both kinds of ultraviolet rays from the sun, called UVA and UVB. Many people know about the SPF number and know that a higher number is better. But SPF only refers to UVB protection. Most of the problem from sun exposure comes from UVA rays. So look for products which block both.

It is important to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun. And it has to be reapplied every two hours. You cannot put it on once in the morning and be good for a whole day in the sun. Be sure to apply the sunscreen to all skin areas which will be exposed to the sun.

Clothing can help block the sun’s rays, but some clothes are better than others. Most clothing does not carry a label showing how much it blocks the sun’s rays. Generally speaking, tighter weaves, darker colors, and less stretchy fabrics so a better job of blocking the sun.

So, do yourself a favor this summer. Stay active and enjoy the nice long days. But protect your skin while you’re out in the sun.


About Partnership HealthPlan of California (PHC)

PHC is a non-profit community based health care organization that contracts with the State to administer   Medi-Cal benefits through local care providers, to ensure Medi-Cal recipients have access to comprehensive, cost-effective health care. First offering services in Solano County in 1994, PHC now provides quality health care to more than 533,000 members in 14 Northern California counties - Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Lassen, Marin, Mendocino, Modoc, Napa, Shasta, Siskiyou, Solano, Sonoma, Trinity and Yolo.

 Dr. Richard Fleming is a Regional Medical Director at Partnership HealthPlan of California.