Making sunblock lotion part of your daily routine is advised, an expert says.
By LAMONT JONES
Summer is a time when people show more skin -- whether to stay cool in the heat, to show off toned physiques or to tan skin made pallid and uneven by months of winter weather and heavy clothes.
But beware the sun: Remember that too much sun can ruin your health as well as your appearance.
Sun worshippers aren't the only ones who need to protect themselves. Ultraviolet radiation is harmful to anyone who spends prolonged time outdoors. Intermittent exposure is also a threat. Experts say you can get sun damage just sitting in the shade.
It is best for everyone's good health to limit sun exposure and wear sunscreen year-round.
"The most important thing is to protect skin from the sun," says Dr. Doris Day, a New York City dermatologist who consults for Good Skin skin-care products. "Apply sunscreen in the morning before you go out, and reapply every two hours."
Taking a break
It's also a good idea to take breaks in the shade when you're in direct sun for prolonged periods, whether you're gardening or shooting hoops.
"Limiting your time in the sun, especially during midday hours, is essential," says Dr. Fredric Brandt of Miami. "You've heard the warnings about ultraviolet rays and skin cancer, so an SPF of 30 or more is a must. Stay indoors or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Play tennis or golf early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Wear SPF every day, rain or shine."
Depletion of Earth's ozone layer results in increased human exposure to the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation. Concrete, sand, water and snow reflect back 85 percent to 90 percent of UV rays, which is why sunburn can occur even on cloudy, overcast days.
Skin color myth
Contrary to popular myth, dark-skinned people aren't sunburn-proof. Although darker skin contains more melanin, a natural sun block, incidences of skin cancer are on the rise among people of color as well as the general population. Skin cancer is a leading cause of death in the United States, increasing at a faster rate than any other form of the disease, with 1 million new cases reported each year.
Children are particularly vulnerable. Most skin damage is done by the age of 18, and just one serious sunburn will increase a person's chances of developing melanoma and other forms of skin cancer and related diseases later in life.
Incidences of skin cancer among older teens and adults in their 20s are rising, adds Marie Czenko Kuechel, editor at large for New Beauty magazine.
"I think people hear the messages very often, but it's kind of like the risks that we talk about with smoking or drinking too much," she said. "It's imperative that we be more diligent about protecting ourselves from overexposure to the sun. I call sunscreen a part of daily grooming as much as you brush your teeth and wash your face in the morning."
Dr. David J. Leffell, a professor of dermatology and surgery at Yale School of Medicine and author of the book "Total Skin," says Americans "hear the risks, but they don't listen."
"This is especially true for younger people, who are in some ways at greatest risk for harm as the cancer-causing mutations caused by the sun accumulate over time."
To determine how strong an SPF you need, estimate how long you can be in the sun before burning. If the time is 10 minutes, a product with an SPF of 30 means you can remain in the sun 30 times longer -- up to 300 minutes -- before burning. But you must apply sunscreen abundantly and often during that time.
Sunscreens that boast the highest SPF factors are often more expensive but not always more effective. An SPF of 75 works longer but is not necessarily stronger than an SPF of 50, notes Paula Begoun, author of consumer-friendly books such as "The Beauty Bible" and "Don't Go to the Cosmetics Counter Without Me."
If you plan to be outdoors for two hours, why would you wear a sunscreen that protects you from burning for 10 hours?
In such a case, a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is just fine.
Not worth the price
Begoun cautions against buying extremely expensive sunblock. For example, Sisley makes a botanical facial sunscreen that's $160 -- with a measly SPF of 8 -- and La Prairie's 5-ounce body sunscreen with an SPF of 30 is $115.
"Experts agree that liberal application of sunscreen is essential to obtain the SPF value on the label," Begoun said, "but how liberally is someone going to apply a $50-per-ounce sunscreen?"
Beyond the potential for cancer, overexposure to sun causes skin to wrinkle and sag prematurely. It also causes unsightly discolorations called hyperpigmentation.
Skin experts say routine exfoliation helps prevent and eliminate skin discolorations and allows smoother application of sunscreen and artificial-tan potions.
In a season when heat and perspiration can dehydrate the body from within and without, experts agree that it's important to treat the skin with special care.