Fall is on its way and winter will soon follow. Before long, we’ll be trading shorts for sweaters, and be skiing down mountains instead of swimming across lakes. No matter the weather, active Idahoans won’t be kept inside. With the scorching days behind us, you may be packing away much of your summer gear, but there are some things you won’t be packing away and they include your supplies to practice sun safety in the fall and winter seasons to decrease your risk of skin cancer.
Ultraviolet Rays of the Sunlight are Year-Round and Your Sun Protection Should be the Same
“Often on cool or cloudy days we are at greatest risk because we assume that we are safe as long as the sun isn’t making our skin hot,” remarks, Certified Physician Assistant, Michael Housley. “Those days people are less likely to seek shade, wear sunscreen, and typically stay out longer to enjoy the more comfortable weather.” Housley suggests wearing protective gear like UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing with long sleeves and wide-brimmed hats for protection, regardless of the forecast.
“Patients often think that cloudy days (or even smoggy days) are unlikely to result in sun damage,” notes Certified Physician Assistant, Tyler McKinnon. “Although the sun isn’t blinding your eyes and the temperature may not be as high, clouds and smog block only a very small portion of the UV radiation that reaches the skin.” McKinnon suggests that even on overcast days, you want to stick to your daily sunscreen routine to prevent long term skin damage.
Make Sunscreen a Part of Your Personal Daily Routine
Sunscreen should be an essential part of everyone’s daily routine. Certified Physician Assistant, Chelsea Faust, emphasizes, “It’s important to make a habit of putting broad-spectrum sunscreen on your face, neck, and chest every day to avoid forgetting on cooler, cloudy days.” Faust’s personal favorite is EltaMD® UV Clear (tinted and non-tinted), available for purchase at Dermatology Clinic of Idaho. “It’s a sunscreen moisturizer that is affordable and has a gentle feel without that sunscreen smell.” Fellow PA-Cs Housley and McKinnon are also fans of EltaMD UV Clear sunscreen, as well as EltaMD UV lip balm for protecting the often-overlooked sensitive skin of the lips.
EltaMD broad-spectrum sunscreens are formulated with transparent zinc oxide which not only rubs in clear but blocks both UVA and UVB rays, offering protection against aging skin and decrease the risk of skin cancer. They are fragrance-free, non-comedogenic, sensitivity-free, and paraben-free, making them safe for even the most sensitive skin types.
Board-Certified Dermatologist, John L. Peterson, M.D., Ph. D notes that sunscreen favorites can vary from person to person. Dr. Peterson advises, “It may be necessary to try different products to find the right one that feels the best.” And Faust agrees, “the best sunscreen is one that you like so that you’ll wear it.”
In addition to the medical-grade options we offer at the clinic, there are even some convenient over-the-counter options, you can pick up in a pinch, that can be effective, like Skin Renewing Day Cream with SPF 30, by CeraVe®, recommended by McKinnon; La Roche-Posay® Anthelios Melt-In Sunscreen Milk with SPF 60 and Aloe Gator® Lip Balm, recommended by Housley; and, for prolonged water exposure, Dr. Peterson often recommends Bullfrog® Brand sunscreens that are specially formulated to offer water-resistant sun protection.
The American Academy of Dermatology and the Skin Cancer Foundation both recommend a minimum of SPF 30, but, as Faust notes, “Most people don’t put enough sunscreen on, and for this reason, she recommends SPF of 45 or higher, for better coverage.” And Dr. Peterson, agrees, citing even a minimum SPF of 50 for his patients.
More Vigorous Outdoor Activities Can Require Adjustments to Sun Protection
Any time spent with sun exposure requires protection, but certain activities may require adjustments to make sure you are safely covered. Generally, it is recommended that you reapply sunscreen every two hours, but as your activities change, reapplying more frequently is crucial. “Physical activities involving sweat or water necessitate reapplication every 90 minutes,” states McKinnon. “I try to err on the side of caution and stick to every hour if possible. If that is something that you are unable to stick to, picking up a long-sleeved UV shirt and a brimmed hat is a must.”
Housley recommends covering up with protective clothing as best as possible for the activity and using sunscreen on exposed skin. He also reminds, “UV light will reflect off water, snow, windows, and other surfaces so a hat alone can’t be trusted to shade your face and neck.” Dr. Peterson adds, “this reflection off the water, asphalt, concrete, etc. intensifies the probability of skin damage. People tend to forget these things, thinking that simply wearing a broad-brimmed hat may be enough.”
Faust recommends wearing water-resistant sunscreen with outdoor water activities as well as with activities that may cause excessive sweating. Additionally, she reminds, “UV rays access the scalp through vented helmets, like biking helmets,” so remember to make sure this skin is not left unprotected. UV protective ultralight skullcaps can be worn beneath bike helmets to protect your scalp.
With so many UPF clothing and accessory items available for outdoor activities all year long you have plenty to choose from, from the basic broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses to hat drapes, sleeves, sun gaiters, and even the latest, UV protective face masks. “I rely on my UV sleeves when I’m outside recreating, says Faust, “They keep me cool in the summer and warm in the spring and fall. During the hot Boise months, I get them wet, which keeps me very cool while protecting my skin from the UV rays without needing to use sunscreens.”
Whatever your outdoor activity level, and through whatever season, protect your skin from UV sun rays, using a combination of sunscreen and UV protective attire. While proper use of sun protection does decrease the risk of skin cancer, it cannot prevent the occurrence 100% of the time, so keep up with your annual full skin exam. And if you have a previous incidence of skin cancer, you will want to have your skin checked by our dermatology specialists more often.