Protect yourself while enjoying the summer sun |

Protect yourself while enjoying the summer sun

Did you know that just 15 minutes of sun exposure can leave your skin damaged? It’s true.

The Centers for Disease Control says that is all the time needed for the sun to leave its mark on your skin. With summer officially underway, many of us will be spending hours – not just minutes – outside in the water, on the trails and just generally enjoying the great outdoors. But fun in the sun without sun protection can have a long-term impact on your health.

Each year, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined. In fact, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70. About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with unprotected exposure to UV radiation from the sun.

“The sun is powerful,” Matthew Muellenhoff, DO, with SIERRADERM Center for Dermatology in Grass Valley points out.

Each year, more people are diagnosed with skin cancer than all other cancers combined.

Fortunately, skin protection is possible. The first – and most important step – is to use a product with SPF daily.

“We tell people that using sunscreen every day is beneficial,” explains Dr. Muellenhoff. “There is compelling evidence that daily use of sunscreen helps lower skin cancer risk. A recent rigorous study of more than 1,600 adults over the course of a decade determined that applying sunscreen with an SPF of 16 daily reduced their risk of melanoma by 50 percent.”

Dr. Muellenhoff says he recommends Zinc or Titanium based sunscreens, which is supported by a recent FDA ruling. He is awaiting guidance from them regarding safe use of chemical sunscreens after a February ruling by the FDA declared Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide as “generally regarded as safe and effective.” The FDA is awaiting further safety data from sunscreen manufacturers regarding the other 14 ingredients approved for use in the United States currently.

“I expect further guidance from the FDA later this year so, for this summer, Zinc or Titanium sunscreens are your best bet,” explains Dr. Muellenhoff. “As opposed to chemical sunscreens, which are absorbed into the skin, Zinc and Titanium sit on the skin and reflect UV rays. I have always liked Zinc oxide as a broad spectrum sunscreen. It provides more coverage across the UV spectrum (UVA and UVB) when compared to other ingredients, including Titanium. The challenge is that it’s white – but if you’re not a fan of that white triangle on your nose or a “ghosty look,” there are products available with smaller zinc particles that make it near invisible but still provide great protection.”

Dr. Muellenhoff has some general recommendations for sunscreen use:

Choose wisely: Choose Broad Spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen and try to find products that utilize Zinc Oxide. For outdoor activities involving water or sweating, choose products labeled with “Water Resistant 80 Minutes” to ensure it will remain effective. “Waterproof” and “All Day Protection” have now been disallowed by the FDA as they are misleading and confusing.

Be strategic: Use sunscreens as part of an overall sun protection strategy. Try limiting time in the sun during peak hours of 10am and 2pm, seek shade and wear protective clothing and hats. Clothing made from UPF-rated fabric is increasingly available and is especially convenient for young children or for times when frequent re-application may not be possible.

Be generous: Apply sunscreen liberally, early and often. Using one ounce (or enough to fill a shot glass) is what is recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology to cover an adult. It is estimated that most people apply only 25-50 percent of the recommended amount. Sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes before going outdoors and should be reapplied every two hours. Effectiveness is degraded by sweating, water, toweling off, and even sunlight alone.

Dr. Muellenhoff recognizes that finding a sunscreen that feels good on your skin and works with your skin type is easier said than done, though.

“Some products may be too oily or heavy for certain skin types – and others may be too drying. It’s worth the time to test out products. We carry a wide variety in our office in the hopes that patients will sample them and identify what works best with their skin. The goal is to make sunscreen part of your daily routine – and that only happens if it’s a product that feels good on your skin.”

Finally, Dr. Muellenhoff says an important part of protecting yourself from sun damage is being mindful when you see something suspicious on your skin.

“If you have a mole or lesion that looks suspicious or a sore that isn’t healing, have a dermatologist look at it,” he says. “And remember, people who have a lot of sun exposure or who experienced repeated sunburns early in life should have their skin checked regularly.”

For more information on how to perform a skin self-exam and how to spot potential problem areas, visit

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