Heading to the beach or an outdoor barbecue? Chances are good that you don a hat and sunglasses and apply sun protection like SPF 30+ lotion, cream or spray.
Unfortunately, sun damage can also creep in when you’re least expecting it. That’s one reason dermatologists recommend wearing sun protection every day, no matter what’s on your agenda.
Unexpected Sources of Sun Damage
Sunburns increase the risk of developing skin cancer, but the reality is, even people who never burn are at risk of sun damage. “Any change in the color of your skin, whether tan or burn, indicates sun damage,” says Laurie Kohen, M.D., a dermatologist with Henry Ford Health.
Even if you slather on sunscreen every few hours, you may still be getting unanticipated sun exposure or making your skin more sensitive to the sun than it needs to be. Here, Dr. Kohen talks about some hidden sun dangers to look out for.
- Watch the windows. Sunlight is made up of two kinds of ultraviolet rays: UVA and UVB. Unfortunately, glass only blocks UVB rays. UVA rays can penetrate a window and damage your skin. That’s one reason doctors often see more sun damage – and skin cancer – on the left side of people’s faces compared to the right. The driver’s side car window offers unparalleled sun exposure. Heading on a road trip? Use sunscreen all over your face and also on your exposed left arm.
- Mind your meds. Certain medications, including some antibiotics, antihistamines, birth control pills, acne medications and diabetes drugs can cause your skin to be more sensitive to the sun. The meds cause a chemical change in the skin that makes it more vulnerable to sunburns.
- Beware of essential oils. Avoid dabbing yourself with oils before heading outdoors: Certain essential oils can also cause photosensitivity. Aromatic favorites such as bergamot, wild orange, lemon and lavender may trigger sun sensitivity. Even something as innocent as lime juice can become toxic in the sunshine. A chemical reaction takes place between the oil and sunlight, resulting in blistering and redness that may leave behind areas of darkness.
- Check your skin care products. Most people know that skin care products containing retinols can make skin more sun sensitive. Ingredients such as alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs) can also make your skin more vulnerable.
- Pay attention to neglected areas. Areas that we often forget to protect from the sun include hands, feet, scalp, part lines in the hair, as well as open patterns in bathing suits and sandals. Every uncovered area of your skin is vulnerable. Your eyes are also vulnerable, so make sure to wear sunglasses whenever you’re outdoors.
- Don’t trust cloud coverage. Contrary to popular belief, as much as 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays bust through clouds. That’s why you can still tan and burn on cloudy, overcast days. People who have a history of skin cancer, and those who have fair skin, red hair and a lot of freckles are especially vulnerable.
Daily Sun Safety
The best way to live safely with all of these hidden dangers is to wear sun protection as part of your daily routine – just like brushing your teeth. “Find a moisturizer with SPF that you like and use it all year round on your face, so at least you know you’re achieving some level of sun protection daily,” says Dr. Kohen.
Even when you’re wearing a full face of makeup, use an SPF-setting spray or refresher spray for added protection during the day. And make sure to cover up with sun-protective clothing when you’re outside for long periods of time.
If you have an autoimmune disease (like lupus) or a connective tissue disease, you have to be extra careful in the sun, as those conditions will flare with unprotected exposure. Most important, see a dermatologist at least once each year for an annual screening to make sure your skin is cancer-free and healthy.
To find a doctor or dermatologist at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).
Dr. Laurie Kohen is a dermatologist and sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center locations in Detroit and Troy. She is also the Associate Residency Program Director for the Henry Ford Department of Dermatology.