Saving your skin from the Island sun

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sommerskin03Visiting an island with a bright blue sky and world-class beaches can lead to irrational decision-making. Like going outside unprotected from the sun.

Summer on Hilton Head Island is ideal for swimming, boating, golfing, riding bicycles and horses, fishing and frolicking in the surf. But even a few minutes of the island’s sun can cause skin damage.

Ultraviolet rays accounted for 80 percent of skin aging in a recent study of almost 300 women published in the Journal of Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology.

Exposure to the sun’s UV rays can lead to dark spots, wrinkles, sagging and degradation of skin texture — changes that can leave your skin resembling an elephant’s mottled, leathery hide.

Beyond cosmetic changes, the risk for skin cancer increases with five or more sunburns, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A tan is a sign of DNA damage to skin cells.

The risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, doubles after one childhood sunburn that blisters. A child’s skin is especially vulnerable to the sun’s radiation.

The challenges of skin protection are even greater for those with fair skin.

“As a redhead with very fair skin, my mother instilled into my mind at a young age to take care of my skin. She taught me to always apply sunscreen and get skin checks by a dermatologist,” said island resident Angele Barker.

Preventing Sunburns Lowers Skin Cancer Risk

“One day while shampooing my 8-year-old son — all three of my young children are fair-skinned like me — I found some black spots on the top of his head. Our pediatrician told us to get them checked out at the Medical University of South Carolina. And just as a precaution, we had them removed,” Barker said. “So when we go out in the sun, we always apply SPF 100 sunscreen. Even though the new sunscreens are ‘waterproof,’ I find with the humidity and the ocean’s salty water, sunscreen doesn’t stay on, so every few hours I reapply it.”

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends applying waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher every two hours, and reapplying after swimming or physical activity. Broad-spectrum sunscreens offer protection against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays can prematurely age skin; UVB rays can burn skin. Both can cause skin cancer.

“Especially for people from the north who don’t know the intensity of Hilton Head’s sun, you need to constantly reapply sunscreen or you will get blistered,” Barker said.

Experts say that more than 50 percent of skin cancer occurs on the face, so reapplying a sunscreen to your face and wearing a wide-brimmed hat or one with a desert-type flap that shields the face, ears and back of the neck are crucial precautions.

“Our pediatric dermatologist told us the best time to go to the beach is 3 o’clock and on. The intensity of the sun is highest around noon, when you can do the most damage to your skin,” Barker said. “I normally apply sunscreen 30 minutes before we go to make sure its dry. A lot of people apply it on the beach and that’s not the place where you should apply it. You’re more likely to miss places. And I use the cream, not the spray, even though the spray is more convenient. Creams stay on the skin and apply better.”

Shield your eyes and the delicate skin surrounding them with a pair of oversized sunglasses offering UV protection. And don’t forget to apply lip balm with sunblock to keep lips from blistering.

And don’t be afraid to think outside the typical sunscreen lotions or creams when it comes to skin protection.

“As the kids got older, we started using the long-sleeve shirts with sunblock. They really like those,” said Barker.

Clothing designed with a built-in SPF of 30 offers 97 percent UV protection. But the sun’s UV rays can penetrate regular clothing, so dress carefully. And be sure to protect your skin on a cloudy day, too; clouds do not block the sun’s ultraviolet radiation.

“I think if you’re smart and you protect your children from UV rays, you can do whatever you want in the sun,” Barker said. “But you have to protect your kids. When they’re little, they can’t do it — they need your help. It’s important that you protect them from getting burned. I don’t think my kids have ever gotten burned.”

Avoid the island’s noonday sun. Remember: the greater the exposure, the higher the risk. Stay in the cool shade as much as possible. And never go outside without sunscreen on Hilton Head Island.