Summer is here: Sun safety tips


Commentary by Melanie Kingsley, MD, IU Health Physicians – Dermatology

With summer in full swing, here are some mid-season skincare reminders to help you enjoy the sun safely.

Difference between “sunscreen” and “sunblock” – Chemical sunscreens filter ultraviolet light and reduce penetration into the skin. These include avobenzone, homosalate, octisalate, oxybenzone and oxtinoxate. Most chemical sunscreens now protect from both UVA and UVB rays, but be sure to check labels for “broad spectrum coverage.” Physical sunblocks include zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. These reflect the sun to prevent absorption of both UVA and UVB rays through the skin.

Choosing the right SPF – Use a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, which should provide 97 percent protection from UVA and UVB rays if applied appropriately. For children older than 6 months, physical sunblocks, containing fewer chemicals, are the best choice.

Application amount and frequency – Because UV light breaks down sun protection products in just a few hours, reapplying every two hours is recommended. I advise applying a physical sunblock to the entire body before going out in the sun. Then if a chemical sunscreen is preferred, apply one with SPF 30 or higher every two hours. For most adults, a quarter cup of sunscreen/sunblock should adequately cover the body.

“Sunburn” and “sun poisoning” explained – Sunburn results from over exposure to ultraviolet light, which leads to immediate redness, burning, pain and blisters. Sunburn can also cause brown spots, wrinkles and skin cancer. Sun poisoning can refer to a severe sunburn resulting in fever, chills, headache, nausea and dizziness. It can also refer to polymorphous light eruption (sun sensitivity). Typically, this appears as a rash each spring upon first sun exposure and improves during the next few months as sun exposure continues.

Treatment – Recommended remedies for mild cases of sunburn include applying cool cloths to affected skin or taking frequent cool showers or baths. Lotions with aloe vera can also help soothe skin. Topical steroids, such as hydrocortisone cream, may help alleviate sunburn pain and swelling. Do not use topical steroids on children under 2 without consulting a doctor. For more serious cases of sunburn or sun poisoning, call your doctor.

Melanie Kingsley, MD, is an IU Health Physicians dermatologist and an assistant professor of dermatology at Indiana University School of Medicine. She is a guest columnist located at IU Health Physicians Dermatology – IU Health Spring Mill Outpatient Center, 200 W. 103rd St., Suite 1500, in Indianapolis. She can be reached by calling the office at 944-7744.

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