In my dermatology clinic, I tell my patients every day to be “sun smart” and use sun protection.
I say this to every patient, many times a day.
Sun smart means three things:
- staying out of the sun when the UV index is high
- the use of sun protective clothing and
- the use of sunscreen
Being sun smart is not that simple though. Just like diet, one method doesn’t fit all. It would be easy to tell people to just cut calories to the minimum but that’s neither healthy nor sustainable. Just like it would be easy to say to stay out of the sun entirely but again it is neither practical nor possible.
I need to tailor my sun smart advice based on gender, lifestyle, skin type and risk of skin cancer. Men are more likely to develop basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma and of course have a really hard time to use sunscreen. Especially outdoor workers are at high risk. For men, I usually emphasize that wearing sun protective clothing and a hat is the easiest and most effective. They should apply sunscreen on areas that they cannot protect with clothing.
Women are more particular and for them sunscreen is part of their skin care routine. Dermatologists often say, “The best sunscreen is the one you use,” but I disagree with that. I do believe specific ingredients matter and we should avoid those that may be harmful. I educate my patients on the benefits of mineral sunscreens and antioxidants.
It is important to try to avoid direct sun exposure as much as possible when the UV index is high. The National Weather Service calculates the UV Index forecast for most ZIP codes across the U.S., and the EPA publishes this information. The UV Index is s a useful tool for planning sun-safe outdoor activities. You can download the free UV index app here.
Staying in shade and wearing a (wide brimmed) hat and light- but long sleeve clothing is a choice one can make just as you choose to eat healthy.
I ultimately tell my patients that have light skin but no history of skin cancer that they should enjoy the outdoors but should never intentionally seek the sun or suntan and always need to wear a hat. Those who have a history of skin cancer need to be extremely careful and try really hard to protect their skin. Darker skinned individuals who can stay out on the sun longer without burning and tan very easily can still get skin cancer, but it is much rarer, and for them, protection from sun is most important to prevent early skin aging, brown spots and wrinkles.
We all love the sun! We just need to be smart, know its risks and benefits. Be sun smart and have fun out there!