Living in our piece of paradise in this beautiful state of Florida is different than living in most other states. When I moved to Florida some time ago, never did I imagine that shorts and flip-flops would be wearable in the winter. Sunshine is available most days here. What a luxury to be grateful of!
By Hedy Setyadi, MD, FAAD, Board-Certified Dermatologist
All of that sunshine comes with the responsibility of taking a good care of our skin. Especially with the fact that skin cancers affects one in five Americans by age 70, and sunlight/ultraviolet (UV) exposure being the cause of most skin cancers.
I frequently hear from patients some widely-held myths that can be dangerous to skin health. The internet and social media provide a wealth of information these days. They can be a great source of information, but they can also be misleading. Let’s see if you have heard some of these myths, and maybe even learn a thing or two about skin health!
Myth #1: “I am going on a cruise/island vacation. Better get that base tan to protect myself!”
Myth debunked: Base tan is not protective. The best it can provide is equivalent to SPF (sun protection factor) of about 3 or even less, which is not enough! On the other hand, the UV exposure that a base tan requires will damage the skin. Even worse, the false security that some may feel due to a base tan tends to alter their behavior. For example, they may stay out in the sun longer, not seeking shade, and decreasing or skipping sunscreen application.
So what should you do to protect yourself instead? Seek shade when you are outdoors. Try to limit sun exposure to before 10 am and after 4 pm. Wear wide-brimmed (ideally 3-inch or greater) hat, large UV-blocking sunglasses, and protective clothing. Use “broad spectrum” sunscreen with SPF 30 or above. Do not forget to reapply every two hours. Also reapply sunscreen every time after swimming, toweling off, or significant sweating. In these cases also consider choosing sunscreen that is “water resistant” (either 40 or 80 minutes are available in the US).
When applying sunscreen, make sure that you use adequate amount. It takes 1 oz. (a shot glass full) for the entire body. Most people only use a quarter to a half of that amount. Inadequate amount of sunscreen use makes the actual SPF significantly lower than what is stated on the bottle. This is because the SPF labeling is based on the assumption that the correct amount of sunscreen is used. Do not forget to apply sunscreen on your ears, neck (including back of neck), toes/feet if they are sun-exposed—these are often-overlooked body areas when one is out having fun in the sun.
Myth #2: “It’s OK to get a tan as long as I do not burn.”
Myth debunked: A few years ago, studies proved that being tan is in itself a sign of DNA damage. So no, you do not need to have sunburn to indicate that your skin is being damaged. Both UVA and UVB cause skin cancers, but UVB induces sunburn while UVA causes tanning and premature aging. Tanning beds are designed to maximize tanning and minimize burning by using multiple times UVA (ultraviolet A) radiation and less UVB (ultraviolet B) compared to those of sunlight.
Myth #3: “I’ll just tan for these special events, and that should be OK.”
Myth debunked: Check out these statistics:
• Those who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.
• More people develop skin cancer due to indoor tanning than develop lung cancer due to smoking.
• Women who have ever undergone indoor tanning are six times more likely to be diagnosed with melanoma in their 20s than those who have never done so.
Be aware that stopping the habit of tanning may be a lot harder than you think! Studies have shown that tanning causes addiction in some people. This is due to a release of opioid-like endorphins, which are the “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, which potentially causes dependency, like cigarette smoking or heavy drinking.
So, what can you do if you prefer the tanned look? It is fine to use non-UV self-tanner/”spray tan” as an alternative.
Myth #4: “I don’t need sun protection when it is cloudy outside.”
Myth debunked: Unfortunately, this is also false. UV light penetrates clouds. Also remember, surfaces such as water and snow/ice reflect UV rays, which increases your UV exposure. Also remember, the higher the altitude, the higher the UV exposure.
Myth #5: “I do not need sun protection because we all need Vitamin D.”
Myth debunked: The safest way of obtaining Vitamin D is through supplementation and diet, not through sun exposure. As far as foods, vitamin D is contained in fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon, also in enriched milk, fortified orange juice, and eggs, as a few examples. In addition, even with sun protection, some UV rays still penetrate your skin and help your body produce vitamin D, especially in Florida.
On the flipside, even if you have routine, significant sun exposure, it does not mean that you get adequate Vitamin D amount anyway. This was shown in a study conducted in Hawaii where half of the significantly sun exposed-individuals studied were still Vitamin D deficient.
Myth #6: “I have darkly-tinted windows on my car, so I am protected from sunlight when driving.”
Myth debunked: While filtering out UVB, UVA still penetrates through glass/windows. Just because you have darkly-tinted windows, it does not mean that they filter out UVA. Llumar (by 3M) is an example of a good UVA-protective coating of car windows.
Another quick tip: Do not forget to apply sunscreen to your hands and arms every day! In addition to your face and ears, they are constantly exposed to the sun while driving and therefore tend to exhibit premature wrinkles and sun spots, but most people tend to forget that fact.
It is never too late to start healthy sun protection habits, as sun damage has a cumulative effect. Some patients may not wince at the risk of skin cancers with UV exposure. However, they may completely change their habits when I remind them that sun protection habits are essential to minimize premature skin aging in the form of early wrinkles and sun spots.
Hope this information helps you to better protect your skin and have fun in the Florida sun, safely! See your local ABD or AOCD board-certified dermatologist for maintenance and help with your skin health.
Associates in Dermatology
3665 Tamiami Trail #104
Punta Gorda, FL 33950