HARTFORD -- We’d like to tell you that this is the time of year to start thinking about proper sun protection, but dermatologists will tell you it’s something you should be thinking about year-round. Dermatologist Dr. Jennifer Pennoyer said sun damage from ultraviolet rays accumulates throughout the year, even if your skin doesn’t show it.
“I don’t think there’s any benefit to being outdoors for 15 minutes without sunscreen. I don’t believe in that,” she said, “Your body gets damage from ultraviolet [radiation] every day of the year, so yes, we’re farther from the sun today in March, but you’re still getting damage to your DNA.”
“Once you get enough of those, you start getting pre-cancers and cancers,” she said.
The American Cancer Society said more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year than all other cancers combined, and an estimated 21,000 people in Connecticut are expected to be diagnosed each year. However, it still can be tough to reconcile those numbers with our (deserved) perception of the sun as the giver of life and the representation of all things positive, and the (undeserved) ideal that tanned skin is healthy skin.
Dr. Pennoyer said she understands that old habits can die hard, but said it’s important to change them for the following generations as well as our own.
“We’ve already had some soccer things outside and I see none of the parents are prepared,” she said, “It really matters that you start early with your kids. There’s good studies that show that if you try to change behavior in the pre-teen and teen years, you’re not going to be very successful.”
Being successful starts with using sunscreen properly, which means first applying it 30 minutes before going outside, and making sure you put on enough.
“It should be about a shot glass. It should be a good amount,” Dr. Pennoyer said, “probably, the one sunscreen that people misuse the most are the sprays because they think that one spray down and up is going to cover a leg.”
Dr. Pennoyer said to use a bare minimum S.P.F. of 30, and to re-apply frequently, especially if there’s a lot of swimming and/or sweating going on.
“Don’t forget about the lips,” she said, “that’s a big area. The kids can burn their lips very easily, especially in and out of the water… and the back of the ears.”
If that sounds like a lot of work, use shade and sun-protective clothing to cut down on the amount of sunscreen you need. Dr. Pennoyer said many prominent retailers carry such clothing, which is easy to spot because it’s usually advertised as having a U.P.F., or Ultraviolet Protection Factor number.
“They can be found in all shapes and sizes and everywhere, so you don’t have to go to these specialty places online,” she said.