Sun Protection – What You Must Know!

uv_ray_graphic_560w3-275x300With summer weather having already begun, Chattanooga, TN and the southeast is getting ready for a long, hot, and sunny season. Dr. James Shire of Shire Facial Plastic Surgery says we all need to know the dangers of the sun and how to protect ourselves and our families. What use to be thought of as a “healthy tan” look is really not very healthy at all.

The sun is not our friend, and the more sun we get the greater the damage that is caused. The sun is known to cause skin cancers such as Basal Cell Carcinomas, Squamous Cell Carcinomas, and Melanomas, which can be not only deforming but also be life threatening. The sun causes wrinkles, loss of elasticity and sagging, leathery skin, and brown sun spots called solar dyschromias and solar kerratosis. The damage one sees in their 40′s , 50′s and 60′s really occurred when they were in the sun as children and in their teens. So it is extremely important to protect yourself, and your family as early as possible.

How To Deal With The Effects of the Sun

To deal with the affects of the sun we must block the UV radiation that is causing the damage. There are two types of UV radiation, UVA and UVB. To be protected you MUST block both UVA and UVB! If you only block one type of UV radiation, you are not protected. Many people wear sunblocks and think they are doing the right thing and are protecting themselves, but they are not. The problem is that the majority of the information on the front packaging of many sun care products are false, exaggerated and, at times, outright lies! This information unfortunately is not regulated. As an example, the SPF number is used only as a marketing tool to help sell the product and is not an indication of the amount of protection you should expect. (Note the SPF number is an old nomenclature that refers only to UVB, and not UVA.)

The good news is that most all sun screens will block UVB, it is very easy to block. The problem is that it is very difficult to block UVA. Very few products will block UVA. A number of the so called UVA blockers lose their ability to block upon exposure to sunlight or UV radiation. So within minutes of being in the sun one has lost their UVA protection. There are two approved UVA blocks available in the U.S. and which are ZINC OXIDE and TITANIUM DIOXIDE. Any sun protection you use must contain either zinc or titanium or both. So if you can’t believe what is written on the front of the package, what should you do? On the back of every product is a box or section labeled “Active Ingredients”. The manufacturer must truthfully disclose the ingredients, so you need to find zinc or titanium listed as one of the ingredients, and if so you will get UVA and UVB protection. But since the SPF number is unreliable, how do you to tell the strength or amount of protection present? Well, after each ingredient there is a percentage. The higher the percent the more protection you will receive. The minimum percent of zinc should be 4%. (15% is the highest available)

There are a few more things you should know about sunblocks. The sunblock should be applied approximately 40 minutes before you are exposed to the sun. It takes that long for it to be effective, so don’t wait till you are in the sun to apply it. Also, there really is no such thing as waterproof. If you are swimming or sweating, you must keep reapplying and reapplying.

Recommendations from a Facial Plastic Surgeon on protecting your skin

UV radiation is everywhere, therefore Dr. Shire recommends wearing sun protection everyday, rain or shine, inside or outside, 365 days a year. Glass and windows do not stop or block UV light, and a white cotton shirt is the equivalent protection of the old SPF=4 rating. So be good to your skin now and for the future.

And if you were wondering about the safety and effectiveness of tanning beds, hopefully recent negative publicity has shed new “light” on the subject and will permanently discourage you from ever using them. They are concentrated UV radiation. If you must appear tan my recommendation is spray tans or tan from a bottle. There are some very good ones on the market.