Enjoy the sun, save your skin | TheUnion.com

Enjoy the sun, save your skin

With summer officially underway and the 4th of July holiday next week, many of us will be spending hours 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.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. 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.

Research shows that experiencing five or more blistering sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 increases your risk for melanoma by 80 percent and increases non-melanoma skin cancer risk by 68 percent.

Fortunately, there are proven steps you can take to reduce your risk of skin cancer and protect your skin from sun damage. Step one is using a product with SPF daily.

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"We tell people that using sunscreen every day is beneficial," explains Muellenhoff. "Data has shown that regular use significantly reduces the risk of skin cancer later in life."

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."

The second aspect of skin protection is sunscreen use during extended periods outdoors.

The AAD recommends using a product with an SPF of 30 or higher that provides broad-spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and is water-resistant.

Muellenhoff says while there is a wide variety of good sun protection products on the market, he encourages using products that contain zinc oxide.

"Whether it is alone or in combination with other ingredients, zinc oxide provides broader coverage across the UV spectrum. The challenge is that it's white — but if you're not a fan of that white triangle on your nose, there are combination products available where the zinc is invisible but still provides great protection."

Just as important as choosing the right product, however, is applying it correctly.

The AAD recommends using one ounce (or enough to fill a shot glass) to cover an adult. However, they estimate 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 or after swimming or sweating.

"Water, time, and sunlight, of all things, cause sunscreen to degrade," explains Muellenhoff. "Reapplying at least every couple hours is critical to consistent protection."

Muellenhoff points out that clothing made from UPF-rated fabric is increasingly available and can provide adequate and thorough sun protection.

UPF-rated clothing can be especially convenient for young children or for times when frequent re-application may not be possible.

Finally, 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 http://www.sierraderm.com/skin-cancer.

Sunscreen ingredients banned

While enforcement may be a few years away, Dr. Matthew Muellenhoff says consumers need to be aware of new legislation that has already been passed in Hawaii banning certain sunscreen ingredients believed to be harmful to coral reefs.

In May of this year, the Hawaiian legislature passed a bill banning the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate, chemicals scientists believe contribute to coral bleaching.

The new rules will go into effect in 2021.