Our skin is our body’s largest organ. It protects us from weather (both hot and cold), it guards our internal organs and helps us resist infection. It’s important to keep the skin healthy with a proper diet and during outside activities 365 days a year.
The US Department of Health & Human Services has named July “UV Safety Month,” which makes it the perfect time for Texans to review their skin care regimen. Texas Lifestyle has done an amazing job of providing options for protecting skin this summer, but it’s also important to understand the science behind what Texans are protecting their skin from.
What’s Your UV IQ?
UV is shorthand for Ultraviolet radiation. UV rays are invisible rays from the sun that damage the skin and can cause skin cancer, and UV radiation is made up of three types of rays: Ultraviolet A (AVA), Ultraviolet B (UVB) and Ultraviolet C (UVC). All three kinds of UV rays are present in our atmosphere – even on cloudy days!
One of my worst sunburns as a child occurred during a cloudy day on South Padre Island. I will never forget how sore my skin felt. I see patients every year who have suffered significant sunburns while being outside on a cloudy day. For some reason, golfers seem to routinely forget to apply sunscreen and wear a hat. I constantly preach good habits to this population, but it’s no different for boaters, hikers and swimmers. Cloudy days are no excuse to forgo sunscreen. Although not always immediately visible to the naked eye, we now have examples of sun damage from birth to old age in Americans who did not pay attention to skin care. Texans can check the EPA’s daily UV index on many weather apps. The ratings span from one to 11, with one identifying a low UV index and 11 an extremely high daily UV index.
Skin cancer is preventable
There are a few simple tips that Texans who work outdoors or simply enjoy being outdoors can follow to protect their skin. A recent study conducted by Australia’s Centre for Research in Cancer Control determined when men are educated about how to care for their skin, they’ll respond positively. It found that most men are not well informed about products that will protect their face and body. I advise my male patients to use a lightweight sunscreen as their aftershave moisturizer. My favorite is Elta Clear.
Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap
The American Cancer Society has adopted the Australian awareness slogan for skin cancer prevention. The slogan reminds people of the four key habits to protect skin from UV radiation:
- Slip on a shirt
- Slop on sunscreen
- Slap on a hat
- Wrap on sunglasses to protect eyes and sensitive skin around them
UV clothing trend
You might have noticed that popular clothing brands such as Athleta have started promoting their products’ “UPF” rating —ultraviolet protection factor While it may seem gimmicky, it’s actually a real product upgrade for outdoorsy people. Clothing made with more tightly woven fabric allows fewer UV rays to pass, therefore better protecting skin. So ditch the white tee next time you go fishing or boating. Lightweight, loosely-woven fabrics have an estimated UPF of only seven. Instead, wear a long-sleeved, dark denim shirt (estimated UPF of 1,700) or one with at least a marked UPF of 50.
Skin safety in the mountains
Many Texans love to escape the heat by traveling to Colorado each summer; don’t leave your sunscreen at home! Higher altitudes mean a higher UV index since there is less atmosphere blocking the sun’s harmful UV rays. Treat your skin with the same care you would in the Lone Star State.
Fun fact: the white powder found on the bark of an Aspen Tree is a natural sunblock. If you’re in a pinch, rub some on your skin.
3 more quick tips worth repeating:
- Sunscreen expires over time, so refresh your pool and sporting bags from year to year.
- I advise patients to keep sunscreen in their car for use on their face and hands while driving in direct sunlight.
- Check the kind of sunscreen you’re using. Make sure it is “broad spectrum” sunscreen. This means it protects against ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Re-apply one ounce every twohours, even if your sunscreen is labeled “water resistant.” One ounce looks like a shot glass. If it takes you the whole summer to use a bottle of sunscreen, you’re not applying enough! Finally, rub in spray-on sunscreen.
Editor’s note: This summer, Texas Lifestyle Magazine has been dedicated to providing the best products for protecting one’s skin health in the Texas heat. This article provides a more in-depth explanation of the dangers skin can face during the summer season. Dr. Ted Lain, MD, is a Board Certified Dermatologist who has been practicing Dermatology in Austin for a decade, and has founded two clinics (Steiner Ranch Dermatology and Pflugerville Dermatology) in the area.