Maintaining healthy skin comes down to the 4 S’s. First is sun avoidance. “Any outdoor activities should be earlier, before 10am, or later, after 4pm, to minimize excessive sun exposure during periods when the sun is strongest,” says Dr. Albert Yan, chief of pediatric dermatology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, PA. Second is sun protection. “Long-sleeved clothing and hats are helpful,” says Yan. Third is sunscreen which should contain certain ingredients. “Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are mineral-based sunscreens which are broad-spectrum and good for those with sensitive skin. Parsol 1789 and mexoryl are sunscreen agents that help provide extra protection against UVA as well as UVB rays,” shares Yan. It is important to be extra cautious if you have sensitive skin and reapply the suntan lotion often. Fourth, self-examinations are important. “Be on the lookout for changes in size, shape or color of moles as well as new symptoms such as itching, bleeding or pain,” says Yan.
The medical community encourages sun in moderation. “Incidental sun exposure is one of the ways we obtain vitamin D, a very important vitamin to maintain good bone health and overall health,” says Yan. Proceed with caution when it comes to sunshine and consider the effect it has on aging. “The person with tons of sun exposure looks significantly older than the person who does not spend much time in the sun,” says Dr. John Andrews, dermatologist at Delaware Dermatology of Bayhealth Medical Center in Dover, DE.
The use of sunscreen does not have to be limited to the sunny days. “Use a sunscreen every morning year-round,” advises Andrews. It is even better if you have a facial moisturizer that includes sunscreen to apply as well. “You may talk to your dermatologist about using a topical retinoid at bedtime which is a prescription item,” says Andrews.
Do not allow your child to go to tanning beds, as they are dangerous and put out high intensity ultraviolet light. Re-member that if you are going to the tanning bed, it is setting a poor example that your child is likely to follow. “People who use tanning beds are two and a half times more likely to develop skin cancer,” says Marjorie Kaplan, director of communications at American Cancer Society in New Jersey. The term healthy looking tan is actually an oxymoron. “A tan is darkening of the skin and the skin becomes darker in response to injury. The tan is a sign that you have had some injury to the skin and the skin has a limited number of ways it tries to protect itself and one way is that it gets darker,” explains Andrews.
Protecting your skin can become easier when you remember a catchy phrase. “Slip, slop, slap and wrap,” says Todd Salerno, community executive at American Cancer Society in New Jersey. This means to slip on protective clothing, slop on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher thirty minutes before you go outside, slap on a hat that protects your scalp, face, ears, forehead and nose and wrap a pair of sunglasses that blocks up to ninety-nine or one hundred percent of UVA and UVB radiation. “Kids should wear real glasses and not toy glasses,” says Salerno.
There are long-term consequences to not taking care of your skin. “Skin cancer occurs when the ultraviolet light damages the DNA and cells of your skin. It can damage those genes that regulate how cells divide and grow,” says Salerno. The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma is another type that is less common but more serious. Skin cancer is related to genetics as well as sun exposure. Since you cannot control your genes, it is important to focus on the factors that are within your control.
The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most treatable cancers and also one of the most preventable. “Make sure you are having a skin health discussion with your doctor,” recommends Salerno. Do not forget the damage from the sun is cumulative. Building good habits for maintaining healthy skin should start at an early age and involve the entire family.