Your skin deserves special attention. It’s the largest organ of your body, protects you from the environment, regulates your body temperature, and helps your body detoxify. Here in the islands, your skin is continually subject to powerful ultraviolet rays that, in excess, can result in burns, premature aging of the skin, or skin cancer. Because Hawaii is so close to the equator, the ultraviolet A (UVA) light is intense throughout the year; even the ultraviolet B (UVB) light drops only 20 percent off its peak summer value during the winter months. How do you protect your skin from the potentially damaging effects of this intense tropical sun? Bruce Mills, M.D., a dermatologist practicing at The Honolulu Medical Group, has some valuable advice.
- Apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more to all sun-exposed areas of your skin every day. Be sure to use it year-round.
- Choose a sunscreen that protects your skin from the damaging effects of both UVA and UVB light. Dr. Mills says that there are lots of sunscreens for UVB protection, but not for UVA protection. Keep in mind that SPF refers only to protection from UVB light, not UVA light.
You can choose a sunscreen that absorbs UV light or one that reflects it. Chemical sunscreens absorb UV light. Contrary to what the bottle may indicate, many chemical sunscreens don’t provide sufficient protection from UVA light. If you use this type of sunscreen, Dr. Mills recommends that you be sure it contains Parsol 1789 – also known as avobenzone – which offers UVA protection far superior to other UVA sun-screening agents. L’Oreal’s Ombrelle and Cetaphil Daily Moisturizer contain Parsol 1789.
Another option is to use a sunblock. Sunblocks contain titanium or zinc oxides that block UVA and UVB rays. Dr. Mills recommends these especially for people who have experienced rashes from sun-screening lotions and creams. Clinique’s City Block and Supercity Block and Neutrogena Daily Moisturizer contain titanium oxide.
- Protect your keikis by applying sunscreens or sunblocks every day. Eighty percent of your lifetime skin cancer risk is incurred by age twenty! In other words, a sunburn at age five increases your risk of skin cancer later in life significantly more than the same burn does at age forty. Dr. Mills advocates keeping keikis out of the sun when it’s strongest, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
- Wear a hat and try to keep your skin covered. In Australia, where the rate of melanoma – the most deadly type of skin cancer – is exceptionally high, all children are required to wear hats at recess. The motto down under is “no hat, no play.” Although all clothing offers some UV protection, you can buy UV-protective clothing that has SPF rankings just like sunscreens. It’s made from tightly woven fabric that prevents light from penetrating to your skin.
- After swimming or sweating, be sure to re-apply sunscreen. Keep in mind that heavy, cream sunscreens tend to last longer than lighter lotions.
- Don’t let using sunscreen give you an excuse to spend more time in the sun. Dr. Mills finds that many people seem to think that if they’re not burned, they can stay out in the sun longer. Using sunscreens to increase your sun time inadvertently increases your exposure to other types of solar radiation. This in turn can increase your risk of skin cancer. If you need to be in the sun for long periods of time, use sunscreen liberally and stay covered up as much as possible.
- See a dermatologist annually for a skin exam to look for skin cancer or other damage caused by UV light. Skin lesions suspicious for skin cancer are those that have multiple colors, irregular borders or continue to scab over and not heal. If a mole or other area of your skin changes, or if you have a skin lesion that you’re concerned about, have it checked by a professional. Don’t procrastinate: May is skin cancer prevention month!
Remember, skin cancer doesn’t just materialize overnight. It’s the result of chronic exposure to the sun’s UV rays from an early age. There’s even a genetic component to skin cancer; people with family histories are especially at risk.
Living in Hawaii, we’re blessed with warm, sunny weather all year long. Enjoy the sunshine, but be sure to protect your skin.
Article was originally printed in the Honolulu Advertiser, honoluluadvertiser.com