Tips for UV Safety | Anne Marie McNeill M.D., Ph.D

What Exactly is a UV Ray?
Dr. McNeill: UV stands for ultraviolet, and refers to the rays of sun that are radiation. There are two types of UV Rays, UVA and UVB, and they are both very dangerous to us. UVA rays penetrate deeply into exposed areas, including skin and eyes, causing aging to the skin and eye damage that can lead to vision loss and cataracts. UVB rays cause sunburns that lead to skin damage, the most problematic being skin cancer.
What happens if you apply sunscreen and do not get a sunburn, but get a suntan, does this damage your skin?
Dr. McNeill: Yes. There is no such thing as a “healthy tan”.
What about vitamin D, don’t we get some health benefits from the sun? Is it true that there are more incidents of rickets because people are avoiding the sun?
Dr. McNeill: There have been extremely rare cases of rickets reported. In general, this is in people who have medical problems or extreme situations which result in them never going outside. There was one case reported in a young boy who was home-schooled and played video games most of the day and literally never left his home. This is obviously an extreme situation. Daily use of sunscreen has never been shown to cause rickets, and has been shown to decrease the incidence of basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma skin cancers.
Yes, but avoiding the sun altogether is not practical. What are some practical ideas for UV safety during the summer months when you are at a BBQ or waterskiing?
Dr. McNeill: There are great formulations of sunscreen now: typical sunscreen lotions, powdered formulations (e.g. Colorescience brand), and makeup with sunscreen built-in. Hats are fashionable and excellent protection from the sun.
It is the first day of your vacation, and you think you put enough sunscreen on, but you have burned and look like a lobster. Did the sunscreen wash off in the water? Is there any such thing as “waterproof”?
Dr. McNeill: In order to be labeled ‘waterproof,’ sunscreens must undergo rigorous testing proving that they are effective even after water exposure. So I don’t think most sunburns are from the sunscreen washing off. I would guess the most common reasons for a sunburn are: 1) Most people just don’t reapply every 3-4 hours 2) Some people don’t apply sunscreen at all, and 3) Many don’t apply enough quantity of sunscreen.
Now that you are sporting that lobster look, what advice do you have for soothing the burn, as well as how to still enjoy your vacation? Do swim shirts work?
Dr. McNeill: If you have a sunburn, you must wear a swim shirt if you are going to go in the sun again, put a hat on. But I would recommend after a sunburn: 1) A cool Shower 2) 100% aloe vera gel liberally every few hours.
How many sunburns does it take to damage the skin? Is any of the damage reversible?
Dr. McNeill: Even one sunburn can cause lasting damage. Studies show a history of blistering sunburns in childhood increases one’s risk of melanoma later in life. So sunburn does do lasting harm.
At that point, you can’t turn back time. Just make sure it doesn’t happen again!
What special considerations, if any should be made for children?
Dr. McNeill: Swim shirts are the best protection. I recommend avoiding chemical sunscreens, instead opt for mineral-based sunscreens, like zinc oxide. Zinc Oxide is not absorbed by the skin, so it is very safe. Also it protects against the whole ultraviolet spectrum, unlike chemical sunscreens. If children are used to always putting on sunscreens and swim shirts since they are babies, it becomes habit.

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