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Personalized Sun Protection

School’s out and that means summer is here! So I wanted to take a moment to remind you to take measures to protect your skin as you get out in the garden, playground, golf course or wherever your outdoor destinations may be.

Here are a few tips to carry you through summer and early fall:

Clouds don’t block ultraviolet radiation (UVR) so don’t assume you won’t need to protect your skin on overcast days. Instead, check the UV index. UV index ranges from 1 to 11+ with higher numbers indicating stronger UV rays and greater need for protection–especially for fairer skinned individuals. There are now several phone applications—including weather apps—that tell you the UV Index. Keep an eye out for the return of my favorite UV Index app, World UV. (1) Created by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), World UV is a great app that tells the UV Index for your location and also what measures you should take to protect your skin based on your skin type. It is temporarily unavailable, but when I emailed the BAD recently, I was told they hope to have it operational again this summer. I’ll let you know if/when I see it is available again.

“Personalized photoprotection,” a term I believe I coined for a book chapter several years ago, means protecting your skin from the sun based on personalized factors such as your skin type, location, season, skin cancer risk, lifestyle (e.g., amount of time outdoors), and aesthetic concerns/desires. (2) As Cancer Council Australia puts it, “A balance is required between excessive sun exposure which increases the risk of skin cancer and enough sun exposure to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.” (3) Knowing your skin and doing what you need to do to protect it from tanning and burning is key.

Midday sun is usually strongest. If you aren’t keeping an eye on the UV Index and you easily burn, avoid the strongest rays by staying in the shade or inside between 11AM and 3PM.  Hats, sunglasses, and sun protective clothing also go a long way in preventing burns.

Avoid intentional tanning (e.g., “laying out” or spending time in tanning beds). Tanning is the skin’s response to injury and its attempt to protect itself. Tanning beds are classified by the World Health Organization as human carcinogens. (4) Check out this infographic for some scary stats. One of the hardest things about my job is diagnosing teens and 20-somethings with melanoma—especially when life-threatening. Repeated tanning also prematurely ages the skin.

Last tip for June: Be aware of Heliocare. Recently polypodium leucotomos (e.g., Heliocare) has been highlighted as a possible oral agent to prevent UVR damage to the skin. This antioxidant is derived from ferns and has been shown to help protect the skin from sunburn with daily dosing. Use of polypodium leucotomos alone will not prevent sunburn, but it is a nice addition for those who are sensitive or who want extra protection. Heliocare is available online, at local pharmacies, and at our office. As with any medication or supplement, if you are considering Heliocare be sure to discuss with your physician to make sure it is right for you.

Well folks, I hope these tips have been helpful! Now get to personalizing your photoprotection! 🙂

Until next month,

Kesha Buster, MD FAAD (board-certified dermatologist)

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Blog References:

1. WorldUV.

2. Buster, K and Ledet J. Photoprotection and Skin of Color. In: Principles and Practice of Photoprotection.

3. Cancer Council Australia, the Australasian and New Zealand Bone and Mineral Society, the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Endocrine Society of Australia, Osteoporosis Australia. Position statement (2016). Sun exposure and vitamin D: Risks and benefits.

4. World Health Organization.

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