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How Your Skin Can Survive Summer

Experts share tips on how to keep your skin healthy while enjoying summertime fun.

WebMD Feature

Do you think of your skin as a beautiful feature to be bared when the weather warms up? Or is it simply a protective shell, an instrument for touch, or a telling clue to your age? While your skin may be all of these things, it is also your body's most prominent organ.

So it's essential you take care of it, especially during the summertime, when UV levels can wreak havoc on exposed skin. While those killer rays may feel sensational, the effects of sun exposure may not be as agreeable over time. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer during their lifetime.

Prolonged ultraviolet exposure may also lead to cataracts, which affects more than 20 million Americans over age 40, reports the National Eye Institute. Then there's premature aginga of the skin. The National Institute on Aging has pointed to sunlight as a major culprit of wrinkles, dryness, and age spots.

The best way to avoid trouble? Block harmful rays when you're out during the day; even during cloudy days use sun protection. Sun rays can penetrate light clouds, mist, and fog. The danger exists in all seasons, and the damage builds up each year.

"The fall, winter, and spring will account for at least 20% of the [UV] exposure that we have," says Ron Shelton, MD, FAAD, FAACS, a board-certified dermatologist, and assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "Yet, there's no doubt that the bulk of the sun damage happens in the summer months."

Whether you're driven by medical concerns, beauty, or both, gear up with WebMD's Summer Skin Survival Guide before hitting the beach, the golf course, or even the back yard -- and keep your skin glowing with good health all year round.

Sun Shields

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. There's strong evidence that excessive sun exposure raises the risk of melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, there will be about 62,000 new cases of melanoma in 2006, and nearly 8,000 will die of the ailment.

Sunscreens. Sunscreen is a highly recommended defense against sunburn and skin cancer. It is now available in lotions, creams, ointments, gels, wax sticks, and spray. Some have glitter and tint, too.

What's the best kind? That depends on you. "It's nice to use a product with a higher SPF, but it's more important you find a sunscreen that you like because you'll use it more," says Andrew Kaufman, MD, a dermasurgeon and a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery.

Make sure to apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go out. Put on enough so that it takes a full minute to rub in. If at the beach, spread at least 1 ounce -- enough to fill a shot glass -- on your face and entire body. Use more if you need to for good coverage. If you swim, sweat, or are outdoors for a long time, reapply every two hours. Your sunscreen should also have the following qualities:

  • It is water resistant. Sweat or water cannot easily remove it.
  • It has SPF of 15 or higher. According to The American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen-SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin.

    For example, with an SPF 2 sunscreen a person who normally (without sunscreen) would turn red after 10 minutes of sun exposure would take 20 minutes to turn red. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 would allow that person to multiply that initial burning time by 30, which means it would take 30 times longer to burn. However, SPF should not be used to determine time in the sun.

    Skin damage can happen even without a burn. Plus, higher SPF numbers do not give proportionate protection. SPF 15 deflects 93% of sun-burning rays, whereas SPF 30 deflects 97%, reports the AAD.

  • It provides broad-spectrum protection, which is in sunscreens containing benzophenones (oxybenzone), cinnamates (octylmethyl cinnamate and cinoxate), sulisobenzone, salicylates, titanium oxide, zinc oxide, and avobenzone (Parsol 1789).

    Unless it has these agents, the sunscreen may filter only UVB light, the major culprit for sunburn and skin cancer. Yet, protection from UVA is important, too. It is responsible for premature aging and the development of skin cancer.

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