How do I protect my skin from the hot summer sun?

Published on July 8, 2012

David T. Harvey, MD Mohs Surgeon & Cosmetic Dermatologist

Not all skin cancers can be prevented; however, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.

Limit exposure to the sun. Do not stay in the sunlight for too long. This is especially true between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the rays of the sun are most intense. If you are unsure about the sun’s intensity, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are the strongest and protection is most important. You can also check the UV index listing in the weather section of your paper or local news web site. This can tell you more about expected sun intensity for a particular day.

Protect your skin with clothing. When you are out in the sun, wear clothing to protect as much skin as possible. Dark-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants made of tightly woven fabrics offer the most protection. Look to purchase SPF rated clothing while swimming or golfing. If you can see light through a fabric, then damaging UV rays can get through too and you can burn.

Wear a hat. A hat with a two to three inch brim offers protection to the scalp, ears, neck, eyes, forehead and nose. A baseball cap only protects the front and top of the head but not the neck or the ears, where skin cancer formation is most common.

Apply sunscreen. When choosing a sunscreen product, be sure to read the label before you buy. The sun protection factor (SPF) represents the level of protection against UVB rays provided by the sunscreen – a higher number means more protection. The FDA is changing the sunscreen labeling laws for 2012. Look for sunscreens that say “broad spectrum” as this will ensure that the sunscreen has good effects at blocking both cancer inducing UVA and UVB rays. Wearing sunscreen and lip balm with a SPF of 15 or higher will protect your skin. Remember to reapply your sunscreen every two hours or after 40 minutes of swimming or heavy sweating.

Wear sunglasses that block UV rays. UV-blocking sunglasses are important for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes and the eyes themselves. The ideal sunglasses should block 99 percent to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Before you buy, check the label to make sure they do.

Avoid other sources of UV light. Tanning beds emit a significant amount of UVA and less UVB rays to produce a cosmetic tan. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause long-term skin damage, wrinkles, and contribute to skin cancer development. Do not use tanning beds or sun lamps. It is better to receive a spray tan if you are in need of a quick treatment.