Tips on sunscreen for summer |

Tips on sunscreen for summer

Dr. Drew WernerVail, CO, Colorado

Skin is our largest organ, and often the most neglected. Skin cancer causes more than 7,800 deaths every year. Equally alarming is that our high altitude here in Colorado increases our exposure to dangerous ultraviolet rays by 60-80 percent, compared to sea level. That means with an average complexion in direct noon sun with no skin protection, someone would suffer skin damage in 25 minutes in New York, 14 minutes in Florida and only 6 minutes in Colorado at an altitude of 11,000 feet. Water and snow reflection may increase those exposures an additional 40 percent. Something else to remember is that sun damage is the number one cause of premature aging of the skin.

Dear Doc,Im coming out to visit Colorado soon and dont burn easily. How careful do I need to be about the sun? Living in Upstate, NY, and looking forward to my first visit to Eagle.

Dear Upstate,Let me be the first to welcome you and your family to Colorado. While living here may acclimate us to the altitude, nothing can acclimate us to the intensity of the sun. Being 6,000 feet, 8,000 feet or even 10,000 feet (greetings to all our readers in Leadville) closer to the sun is a remarkable thing. Just as the stars shine brighter at night, the sun more easily burns our skin.We can be smart though and avoid the burn. Sunscreens really do work, although not all are created equal. For years, the focus of sunscreens has been their SPF or Sun Protection Factor rating. SPF however measures only protection to UVB or Ultra Violet B rays. Recent scientific evidence has shown that UVA or Ultra Violet A rays may in fact be even more harmful than UVB rays. Penetrating deeper into our skin, UVA rays may be more responsible for causing skin cancer and premature skin aging than UVB rays which are responsible for the all too familiar sunburn. Check your sunscreen to make sure it contains UVA and UVB protection.Currently, there are four major UVA sunscreen ingredients. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide provide both UVA and UVB protection. They are effective and may be better tolerated if you have sensitive skin, but are more difficult to apply and harder to rub in. Avobenzone marketed as Parsol 1789 is also a UVA blocking ingredient in sunscreens, but breaks down fairly quickly when exposed to light. It needs frequent reapplication and works best when used in combination with other UVA blockers. The fourth UVA blocker was originally approved for use in 1991 in Europe and Canada. Known as Ecamsule it is twice as effective at blocking UVA rays as anything else currently available. Marketed as Mexoryl, it was only recently approved by the FDA for use in the United States. Currently sold in the brand name Anthelios SX, it is combined with a moisturizer and UVB blocker with an SPF rating of 15. It is sold through medical skin care specialists. For local availability check with Alpine Laser Clinic, Vail Dermatology or your medical skin care provider.

In order to get the maximum benefit from sunscreen and prevent not only burning but cancer and premature aging, they must be used correctly. Here are some tips to do just that: Use sunscreens every day. We all get some exposure, and windows do not block UVA rays. Be especially careful when the suns rays are the most direct between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Get help or give help applying sunscreen in those hard to reach areas. Cover up and wear a wide brimmed hat when possible. Remember though that clothes have a limited SPF rating too. Carry sunscreen with you in your bag or car and keep them handy at home for the whole family to use. Apply sunscreens 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure for full benefit. (They need to soak in & bind with our skin) Use enough! It takes on average 1 ounce of sunscreen to cover exposed skin on an adult. Too much is better than too little. Reapply sunscreen every two hours as well as immediately after swimming. Waterproof or all day protection claims are not true. Some researchers found reapplying 30 minutes after initial use was much more effective (perhaps because we generally use too little). Dont forget your children. As much as 80 percent of skin cancer may be initiated before age 18. Use a sunscreen with both a minimum SPF rating of 15, and UVA protection as well.

Enjoy our incredible mountain summer, but avoid getting burned. While you are at it, avoid skin cancer and premature aging too. Sunscreens work, but remember they are not all created equal. Pass this advice on to your friends and family whether they are coming out for a visit or not. If you happen to see some visitors from Upstate New York however, please say hi to Dave and Jill and their two children Josh and Jon. It just happens to be my brothers first visit to Eagle.I hope this week you can ponder the freedom we have to enjoy our sun, and yes, even the freedom to use sunscreen or not. Have a great Fourth of July and God Bless America and those who keep us free. Dr. Drew Werner of the Eagle Valley Medical Center writes a regular column for the Daily. He encourages health questions. Write him by e-mail to or c/o Editor, Vail Daily, P.O. Box 81, Vail, CO81658.

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