Dermatologist, Athena Kaporis, MD, addresses misconceptions about wearing sunscreen.
A lot of confusion still exists around sunscreen – who should use it, when to use it and what it actually does. Understanding how the sun’s rays, or UV radiation, affects your skin is the first step to gaining some clarity and adopting good skin protection habits.
When you go outside, there are two types of UV radiation to worry about – UVA and UVB – and both of them have links to skin cancer. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, UVA light, also known as aging rays, causes wrinkles and age spots and can pass through glass windows. UVB rays, the burning rays, are the primary cause of sunburn and they directly damage the DNA in your skin cells, which can be a precursor to skin cancer.
“There is no safe way to tan,” says White Plains Hospital’s Dr. Kaporis, who sees patients at Westchester Dermatology and Mohs Surgery in the Mount Kisco office. “Every time you tan you cause damage to your skin, adding to the aging process and increasing your risk for skin cancer. Regular use of sunscreen can reduce the amount of UVA and UVB rays that damage your skin.”
To make it easy for members of the White Plains community to stay safe this summer, White Plains Hospital and the City of White Plains have installed touchless sunscreen dispensers at pools and parks across the city.
Use It in the Car
Between curbside pickups, drive-by celebrations, and summer road trips (due to less plane travel), we are spending a lot more time in the car. Don’t let all those windows give you a false sense of security against those UV rays.
Laminated glass windshields are treated to block over 90% of UVB radiation. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), it’s the UVA radiation you need to worry about most in the car. Sunroofs, side windows and rear windows are made of tempered glass. They are designed to safely shatter in small pieces during a crash, but they provide about half the UVA shielding protection, says the SCF website.
“It’s no surprise that most skin cancers of the face are on the left side, the driver’s side,” says Dr. Kaporis. “Be sure to wear broad spectrum sunscreen (covers both UVA and UVB) of at least 30 SPF or higher.”
Use It Regardless of Skin Tone
While skin cancer risk tends to be lower in people of color, it’s still a risk not to be dismissed. Squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for 20% of all skin cancers and about 75% of all deaths due to skin cancer (non-melanoma), is the most common type of skin cancer in African Americans and Indians, and the second most common type in Hispanics, Asians and Caucasians, according to the Skin of Color Society.
“There’s a misconception that if you have a darker skin color, you don’t need to wear sunscreen or protect yourself from the sun,” notes Dr Kaporis. “But you do. While the natural melanin, or pigment, in darker skin offers some protection, it’s not sufficient enough on its own for long periods of time. And remember, that daily exposure builds up over time. That’s what we really need to minimize.”
Use It When It’s Cloudy
UV rays reach you all year round, and can penetrate cloud cover, so it’s important to wear sunscreen even on gray and hazy days – and yes, even on those frigid winter days. These rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so it is important to reapply your sunscreen regularly – at least every two hours – even more if you are swimming or sweating excessively playing sports.
Use It on All Body Parts
Don’t forget the tops of ears and even the soles of your feet. Any skin surface can develop skin cancer, which is why dermatologists recommend annual skin cancer screenings.
Dr. Kaporis says one of the biggest sunscreen mistakes people make is skimping on application. Make sure to use a quarter size dollop on each body part (leg, arm, face etc…) and reapply as necessary, she says.
Want to keep the advice even simpler? Everyone should wear sunscreen all the time! Find a sunscreen that you like and make it a habit to use it on all exposed areas whenever you leave the house. Prevention is always the best way to stay healthy.
Dr. Athena Kaporis is a dermatologist with Westchester Dermatology and Mohs Surgery/White Plains Hospital Physician Associates, seeing patients in the Mount Kisco office.
To make an appointment, call (914) 242-2020.