We know you’ve heard it before.

Protecting yourself from the harmful effects of the sun is one of the best things you can do for your skin.

Not only does the sun cause premature aging and wrinkling. It also is the leading cause of skin cancers. Melanoma, basal cell carcinomas, and squamous cell carcinomas have all been linked to sun exposure.

But, does protecting yourself from the sun mean you have to stay indoors?

As dermatologists in Hagerstown, Martinsburg, and surrounding areas, we know many of our patients enjoy being active.

Our area is full of great areas to hike, bike, explore history, and be outdoors in lots of ways. And doing just that is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

So how can you maintain an active lifestyle and protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun?

Your skin care specialists in Hagerstown and Martinsburg have the answers.

1. Get the facts.

The first step in protecting yourself from the effects of the sun is knowing the facts.

We know, for some, mom used to tell you a “base tan” is a good thing. Or maybe you’ve heard a little color on your skin makes you look healthier.

While we agree mom’s advice is usually the best, when it comes to tanning, avoidance is the best policy.

Because while being tan may still be “in” to some, your natural skin tone is a beauty statement all on its own.

In fact, it is important to recognize what a tan actually is – damage to the skin. That darkening of the skin that many people define as a “healthy tan” is actually an increase in melanin. Your body produces melanin in response to the harmful sun rays. It’s your body’s attempt to protect against more damage.

The same is true for tanning beds. They also cause damage to the skin.

Anything that increases your body’s melanin response, otherwise known as a tan, is harmful to the skin.

In short, tans are not a sign of health or beauty. Rather they are a sign of harm done to the skin.

2. Know the basics of using sunscreen.

According to our dermatologists in Hagerstown and Martinsburg, sunscreen is one of the best ways to protect your skin. It’s the single product that Dr. Hurst recommends to all his patients. 

Ideally, sunscreen should be applied daily. Even if it’s a cloudy day or you’re only going to outside for a short time, sunscreen should become a daily habit.

Here are a few other rules of thumb for sunscreen:

  • Pick a product with a short list of ingredients. Fewer ingredients usually means fewer chemicals.
  • Look for sunscreen with titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. These two ingredients in mineral sunscreens have been labeled as safe by the FDA for the skin. They’re very effective for preventing sun damage.
  • Apply a liberal amount, about the size of a shot glass. Make sure to evenly apply to all sun-exposed areas, like the tips of the ears.
  • Don’t forget to reapply. Sunscreen can get absorbed or rubbed off, particularly when you’re in the water. So reapply frequently.
  • Use spray sunscreens sparingly. While they’re convenient and better than no sunscreen, they can be harmful to inhale, may contain more chemicals, and may not cover as well. If you are going to use a spray sunscreen, try a non-aerosol one.

3. Seek shade.

In sunny conditions, shade is often the best place to be. By not exposing you to direct sunlight, shade can be an effective sun protector. This is especially true during peek sun hours. These hours are defined by some as 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Others define them as 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

So grab that umbrella, sit under that awning, or stake your spot under a tree.

Do remember though that a portion of the sun’s rays can still reach you. And keep in mind that not all shade is created equal when it comes to protecting your skin. For example, small objects, like umbrellas, need to be repositioned often. And some fabrics in canopies and other shade producers can still allow some rays to pass through.

So be sure to combine this tip on reducing the effects of sun exposure with the other tips and advice listed.

4. Wear sun protective clothing.

Covering skin when possible is also a useful way to protect your skin from the sun.

Rash guards, water-wicking shirts, and other long sleeve garments are great options for sun protection. Many companies now also make long sleeve bathing suits which help provide protection.

Don’t forget the hat and sunglasses when trying to prevent damage caused by the sun.  Broad brim hats provide protection for not just scalps, but also the back of the neck and face.  Sunglasses protect the eyes, another place melanomas may occur.

5. Know your risks from car windows.

One place we often receive sun exposure without realizing it is in the car.

That sunlight beaming in through the windows of your car can damage your skin.

Front windshields usually have a coating that provides some sun protection. But side windows do not have that coating and can offer little protection from the sun.

Practicing the tips for protecting your skin from the sun is important while you’re in the car too.

6. Protect the little ones a bit differently.

So, we know it’s important for adults to wear our sunscreen, use protective clothing, and seek shade. But are the rules of sun protection the same for infants and children?

The answer is yes… and no.

Sun protective clothing, shade, and sunscreen are musts for kids too.

However, for infants under six months, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends sunscreen only when no other options are available. In these instances, only a small amount of sunscreen should be applied because babies’ skin can be sensitive to products.

The best option for very young babies is direct sun avoidance, shade and lots of sun protective clothing.

7. Know when to see a dermatologist.

We can all take steps at home to help keep our skin healthy and sun protected. Yet, there are times when you need to see a dermatologist.

Often, it’s while we’re applying sunscreen or otherwise paying closer attention to our skin that we notice a skin issue.

If you observe a changing, bleeding, or itching mole, you should contact a dermatologist.

Additionally, annual skin checks should be done by a board certified dermatologist. Dermatologists are easily able to recognize moles that may be cancerous and annual checks can identify moles that need biopsied.

Our dermatologist in Hagerstown and Martinsburg is available to address all of your skin health needs. We aim to provide the best dermatology care for your sun-related skin questions and all your dermatologic needs.

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