Do you really know how to protect your skin in summer?
With the arrival of summer, the skin needs extra care. Dermatologist Helena Toda Brito reminds us of the essential precautions to take when exposed to the sun and points out the warning signs that should lead you to consult a doctor.
Enjoying the sun is one of the things we most want to do when summer arrives. And if we take into account the successive confinements to which we have all been subjected, it is even one of the activities we look forward to the most. However, certain precautions must be taken to protect the skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Indeed, exposure to ultraviolet rays not only contributes to the aging of the skin, but it is also one of the main risk factors for the development of skin cancer, as it accumulates all the excesses suffered throughout life. It is therefore recommended that everyone, without exception, be careful with sun exposure, and extra care should be taken in the case of people with fair skin, blond or red hair, light eyes and many moles or freckles, as they tend to be more sensitive to burns. People who have been diagnosed with a skin condition or who have recently undergone treatment/surgery should also ask their dermatologist/surgeon about precautions to take. Children under 12 months of age should not be exposed to direct sunlight.
According to dermatologist Helena Toda Brito, always using sunscreen is the first rule of thumb to keep the skin well protected in the summer, and it is essential that it is applied correctly (see HIGHLIGHTS). On the other hand, avoid direct exposure to the sun during peak hours, especially between 12 and 4 pm, wear protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses with UV protection, as well as gradual and progressive exposure to the sun.
Among the most important characteristics of a sunscreen, the specialist identifies the sun protection factor (SPF), which should always be equal to or greater than 30, depending on the needs of each person. It is also necessary that the product “offers broad-spectrum protection, protecting the skin from ultraviolet A and B rays, and ideally also from visible light and infrared rays”. On the other hand, “although no sunscreen is completely waterproof, it is recommended to opt for a screen that has this indication, so that it is more resistant to perspiration and contact with water,” he says. Other factors that can also be taken into account are related to the “form of presentation most suitable for the type of skin and the area where it is applied,” for example, cream, milk, lotion, gel, stick, spray, powder, mist or oil. It should also be chosen according to the “different needs and specificities of the skin”, for example pediatric sunscreens for children and mineral or physical sunscreens for reactive skin”.
How to apply sunscreen?
In order for the use of sunscreen to be as effective as intended, it is necessary to know how to use it correctly:
- Apply sunscreen on about 20 to 30 minutes before leaving home;
- Pay attention to hard-to-reach areas (such as the back) and frequently overlooked areas, such as neck, ears, lips, feet, and scalp;
- Reapply frequently throughout the dayevery two hours and whenever you sweat or dive (even if it hasn’t been two hours yet and even if the product is water resistant);
- Check the expiration date of the sunscreen.Throw away the product if it has expired or has been opened more than 12 months ago (even if the expiration date on the package is respected) ;
- Do not rely exclusively on sunscreen products, as even the most effective ones do not guarantee total protection from the sun. used as a supplementand not a substitute, for the other sun protection measures.
Be careful with cosmetics and medicines
According to the doctor, other skin care should be observed during the warmer months, namely that it is important “to adapt the cosmetics used to the season of the year”, as “the skin often becomes more oily in the summer, and it may be beneficial to replace the cosmetics applied with others that are lighter and more fluid”. Similarly, the specialist points out that “some ingredients, such as retinol, glycolic acid or hydroquinone, may be less well tolerated during the months of greater sun exposure and should be avoided or used at lower concentrations.”
Equally relevant is the “hydration boost”, which is achieved by “increasing fluid intake, to compensate for the amount lost through sweating and avoid dehydration”. It is also necessary to “be careful with the medications taken”, as “some medications make the skin more sensitive to the sun, triggering a burning-type reaction even with moderate sun exposure”.
What about vitamin D?
Lately, there’s been more and more talk about the importance of vitamin D and its relationship to sunlight. But how do we make sure we get the amount of vitamin D the body needs without compromising the health of our skin? According to the dermatologist, “Since ultraviolet radiation is a proven carcinogen – it is the leading risk factor for skin cancer – and there is, to date, no scientifically determined value for ultraviolet radiation that allows for maximum vitamin D synthesis without increasing the risk of skin cancer, the American Academy of Dermatology’s position [AAD] and the Skin Cancer Foundation is to advise against intentional sun exposure for this purpose.” In fact, Helena Toda Brito agrees with the AAD’s recommendation, which advises “to Obtain vitamin D through a healthy diet, including foods naturally rich in vitamin Dsuch as salmon, sardines, egg yolk; vitamin D-fortified foods and beverages; and/or vitamin D supplements.”
“To get the benefits of the sun without running unnecessary risks to your skin, you need to protect yourself properly from the sun,” the doctor reinforces. Because “even if you follow all the recommended precautions, some of the sun’s radiation still reaches the skin, contributing to vitamin D synthesis,” she says, pointing out that “studies show that people who use sunscreen daily can maintain their vitamin D levels, and there is no evidence that sunscreen use leads to vitamin D deficiency.”
Skin cancer: the importance of vigilance
Since many skin cancers are associated with unprotected exposure to the sun, frequent monitoring is warranted to detect the disease as early as possible. In this regard, Helena Toda Brito points out that “the Portuguese Skin Cancer Association recommends regular self-examination of the skin – monthly or at least every two months – to check for suspicious lesions, as well as annual evaluation in dermatological consultations.” As for signs that should be alarming, he points to some ways to identify them:
Rule ABCDE – Attention should be paid to the following changes:
AsymmetryOne half of the signal is different from the other half;
Borderirregular or ill-defined ;
Colorthe signal has changed color or has several colors (different shades of brown, black, and sometimes red, blue and white) ;
Diameter: greater than 6 mm (which corresponds approximately to the size of the eraser of a pencil) ;
EvolutionThere has been a recent change in size, shape or color.
Sign “ugly duckling”. – If a sign looks different from the others and therefore stands out, you should show it to a specialist. “Generally, the signs on our body have a similar appearance (the same shape, the same colors, the same size), if you find a sign different from the others, you should consider it suspicious,” explains the doctor.
Recent change – A sign that has recently appeared or changed (in size, color and/or shape) may indicate problems.
Pain or itching – When a sign causes burning, pain or itching, you need to draw attention to it. “Although skin cancer often causes no symptoms, it can cause pain or itching,” justifies the dermatologist.
Wound that does not heal – A sign that has the appearance of a wound but does not heal should not be considered normal and medical advice should be sought.
Bleeding – It is recommended to consult a doctor in case of a mole that bleeds or leaks some type of liquid.
Suspicious lesions – Rough or peeling skin lesions, as well as those with a pearly appearance, should also attract attention.