PORTLAND, Ore. — The sun has made its summertime return to the Pacific Northwest — and with it, powerful UV rays. This week’s Healthier Together offers tips and reminders to keep your skin protected, even after the sunny season ends.
“This is a great area to talk about because of course we love the sun, we don’t get it all the time, but even when we do get sun – it’s important to be very mindful that sun can still cause significant skin damage,” Dr. James Polo said.
Dr. Polo is the Executive Medical Director for Regence Blue Cross Blue Shield of Oregon.
“The UV rays from the sun can actually damage skin cells. The DNA gets damaged in the cell and that can lead to all kinds of problems,” he said.
Melanoma is at the top of the list of problems. An estimated 99,780 new skin melanomas are expected to be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2022, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Though the state doesn't have a reputation for excessive sun, Oregon is among the top third of states for melanoma cases. On average, about 1,300 people are diagnosed in the state each year.
While family history, age and ethnicity all play a role, sun exposure is a factor in roughly half of melanomas.
That is why protecting yourself is key, and the first step is sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends you use a sunscreen labeled “broad spectrum” because that means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays are the ones that prematurely age your skin. UVB rays cause sunburn. Overexposure to both can lead to cancer, according to the OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute.
“Make sure you’re getting broad spectrum because the broad-spectrum sunscreens will also protect against UVA rays and these are the rays that go deeper into the skin,” Dr. Polo said.
When it comes to sunscreen, you want to consider the sun protection factor: SPF. It’s a measure of how much UVB light the sunscreen can filter out. The AAD recommends an SPF of 30 or higher.
Dr. Polo offers an important caveat, however.
“It’s not like sunscreen is fully protective and you can just stay in the sun as long as you like.”
It's best to start with a base coat of SPF 30 over all exposed skin a half hour before heading outdoors, then reapply every two hours. If you’re swimming, you’re going to want to reapply every time you get out of the water.
“It’s important to put it on all parts of our body that might be exposed,” Dr. Polo said. “Sometimes we put it on the common parts of our body and forget other parts that are exposed.”
Also, it's good to remember protective clothing in the sun, as well as glasses and hats.
“It’s good to wear a hat and wear sunglasses because UV rays can also damage the eyes and lead to cataracts,” he said.”
The sun can damage your skin year-round, even when it’s cloudy out. So, even on those partially sunny or gray days, sunscreen is a smart addition to your daily skin routine.