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A dermatologist explains how to protect your skin from the summer sun

 Sun over downtown San Antonio
Jerry Clayton
Sun over downtown San Antonio

It's summer, which means most of us are spending more time outdoors this time of year. It's easy to forget that too much sunlight can damage your skin and even cause cancer.

TPR's Jerry Clayton spoke with Dr. Karla Muñoz, board certified dermatologist, about how to protect your skin from the sun

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity

Clayton: Let's talk about the effect of sunlight on our skin. I mean, I've heard that getting sunlight is good for you, in a way. Right?

Muñoz: You know, that's right, sunlight, to a certain degree, can help us increase our vitamin D levels. But also, the sunlight does emit UV radiation, and that can cause sunburn. And as a carcinogenic, UV radiation does cause cancers —especially things like squamous cell skin cancer and also basal cell skin cancer and melanoma. And also it actually contributes to photo aging. So it makes us get more sun spots and wrinkles.

Clayton: What is the main thing you should do to protect yourself if you're going to be out in the sun?

Muñoz: So one of the big things before we even get into sunscreen is actually UV protective clothing. Seeking shade and getting in the shade is number one. But if you're going to be out at the beach or a water park or somewhere where you just can't get shade, sometimes I think wearing a good wide brimmed hat would be great. You can look for clothing that has UPF 50 plus, which means ultraviolet protection factor.

So my patients ask me, ‘Hey, are there any chemicals in this clothing?’

The clothing with the UPF 50 tag is just the way that they're woven. So they're really safe. They protect even more so, I think, than sunscreen, because sometimes when you're at places where you're sweating and there's a lot of water, you don't even have to worry about reapplying, right? You're going to just have that shirt on. It would be great if you had one with long sleeves.

They sell them everywhere for kids, for adults. They're not as hot as they used to be. There's a lot of great options. So number one, UPF protective clothing and then second, sunscreen. So you do want to use sunscreen. There's two different main kinds of sunscreens. One is physical sunscreen, which is the zinc or titanium-based one. Those actually deflect the rays from the skin and they sit on the surface very safe and and actually great for sensitive skin, great for babies and kids. As long as the babies are six months of age and up.

And then there's chemical based sunscreens and they have a lot of options as well. And they now make them even more safer than they ever have been. So those are all great. You want to look for things that say broad spectrum covering both UVA and UVB sunrays, SPF 30 or higher, and then one that's maybe water and sweat resistant. Those are my favorites.

Clayton: When should someone be concerned about skin cancer?

Muñoz: So I think if you have a lesion on your skin that's persistent, maybe it's crusting, maybe bleeding, sometimes itchy, and sometimes these things are slow growing. So that's one thing. If something's not healing, maybe it looks different than anything else you have on your skin.

And then the second thing is just looking for moles. Get comfortable with the moles that you have. If you have a mole that maybe is changing or maybe is itchy, or maybe a mole that maybe has a couple of different colors in it. I mean, anything like that, you do want to get that checked out.

And sometimes they can be something you've had for several years. We do know that two thirds of the time, melanoma comes from a brand new growth. But one third of the time, it can come from a preexisting mole.

Copyright 2023 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Jerry Clayton