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Here Comes the Sun, So Keep Your Skin Safe

With the summer sun blazing in the sky, it’s important to educate yourself on how to safely enjoy being outdoors. Seemingly innocent sunlight can lead to a host of skin problems including premature aging and cancer.

The sun is the number one enemy of skin. It emits a broad spectrum of wavelengths, but it is primarily the ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B portions that cause skin damage, said Dr. David Duncan, a board-certified dermatologist in Norman, Okla.

There are three main types of damage. The first is acute solar damage, commonly called a sunburn. The second is chronic photodamage, which are the changes in the skin associated with aging such as wrinkles or thinning skin. This type of damage is caused by an accumulation of sun exposure over time.

“The amount of sun required to cause damage changes with skin type, with fairer skin requiring less total accumulation and less time,” Duncan said.

The last type of skin damage is premalignant and/or malignant changes, which are caused by damage to the DNA by an accumulation of sun exposure. It’s important to know that these changes are based more on your total amount of sun exposure, not the intensity of a single sunburn.

“Someone who gets just enough sun for a sunburn has damaged their skin less than someone who gets half the amount for a sunburn for four consecutive days,” Duncan said. “This is often misunderstood and people rationalize going to tanning beds to avoid a sunburn. They are actually damaging their skin more.”

So what can you do to avoid damage to your skin and keep it healthy and youthful?

  • Know your skin type. Susceptibility to these types of damages is primarily inherited by way of skin type. There are six main skin types, with type 1 being pale skin that never tans and burns easily and type VI being black skin that never burns and becomes darker with sun exposure, Duncan said. “The amount of sun required for a sunburn in June at noon is about 20 minutes for type I and II skin,” Duncan said.
  • Avoid the sunniest hours of the day, typically between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., or stay in areas of shade.
  • Wear protective clothing. Duncan said sun protective clothing is becoming more popular and more widely available.
  • Wear sunscreen. “For most people regular use of an SPF of 15 to 30 is adequate, but for those with a strong personal or family history of skin cancer I recommend the strongest they can find,” Duncan said.

Dr. Duncan’s dermatology practice is located at 2413 Palmer Circle in Norman, Okla. Call (405) 321-3868 to schedule an appointment.

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Norman Regional Health System

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