Swimming, reading by the pool, gardening, biking and hanging out on the porch with friends. These favorite summer activities share a common factor – they each expose your skin to potentially damaging environmental factors.
So, let’s just get the scary part out of the way. The American Cancer Society reports that Melanoma is responsible for one death every single hour. There were 14 deaths due to West Nile virus in Texas during 2013, according to Texas Department of State Health Services records. The skin, if not properly cared for, can serve as an entry for frightening possibilities during the summer months.
But here’s good news: You are in control. You can significantly limit your exposure to the dangers of summer while still enjoying the season.
Sun Exposure, Sunscreen and Skin Cancer
We all know that we’re supposed to use sunscreen and other precautions to avoid the sun’s damaging UVA and UVB rays. The problem is that most of us are doing it wrong.
According to James Ralston, M.D., of The Dermatology Center of McKinney, “There is no safe way to tan.” Dr. Ralston emphasizes that a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30 should be a part of everyone’s daily routine.
When questioned about the safety of sunscreens themselves, Dr. Ralston emphasizes that it is known that exposure to the sun’s UV rays causes skin cancer. No such evidence exists with regard to sunscreens. Traditional sunscreens absorb the sun’s rays and transform them so that they aren’t harmful.
If the ingredients of these sunscreens trouble you, however, a formula based on zinc and titanium might be a good choice. These types of sunscreens (formerly referred to as sun-blocks) reflect the sun’s rays, and for that reason can actually have a bit of a cooling effect in the sun. Traditionally, these formulations formed the white layer that lifeguards used on their noses. But today the zinc and titanium are broken up into nano-particles so that the white film isn’t seen.
Whichever formulation of sunscreen you choose be sure to reapply it at least every two hours and after swimming or physical activity. Even water-resistant sunscreens wash off when you swim or break a sweat.
There are other valuable ways to limit the sun’s damaging effects on your skin:
- Avoid the sun’s peak hours from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear protective clothing when appropriate.
- Choose a broad-brimmed hat.
- Wear large, close-fitting sunglasses.
Staying in the shade and sunscreen are essential to fighting the sun’s harmful UV rays.
According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans get some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. However, skin cancer, when detected early, is nearly 100-percent curable. Warthan Dermatology hosts an annual free skin cancer screening event.
Most of us who grew up in the area have grown accustomed to thinking of mosquitoes as nothing more than nuisances. However, with the introduction of new viruses to the area, mosquitoes pose a real health threat in North Texas. Among the 55 species of mosquito in Texas, there are carriers of West Nile virus, dengue fever and other pathogens. The female mosquito bites, and it’s the injection of her saliva that spreads the virus and causes the bite to itch.
There are several steps you can take to limit your exposure to mosquito bites:
- Use an insect repellant with DEET. (A low concentration is usually sufficient)
- Avoid the outdoors around dusk when mosquitoes are at their most active.
- Eliminate sources of standing water that serve as ideal spots for mosquito larvae to develop.
- Use environmental products, such as citronella candles, to discourage mosquitoes. You might even burn sage or rosemary over coals to deter the insects, as recommended in The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
If you do get a mosquito bite, do your best not to scratch it. Scratching causes the skin to release histamine which makes the itching worse, not better. It also increases the likelihood that a simple mosquito bite will become infected, which carries its own set of health concerns.
That’s a Lot of Chemicals
Between sunscreen, mosquito repellant, chlorine and a fair amount of salty sweat, our skin is inundated with potentially irritating and drying chemicals all summer long.
In addition, if you find your skin drying out, you can follow these tips from the American Academy of Dermatology:
- Take short showers that are warm, but not hot. This will help preserve your body’s natural oils and moisture.
- Don’t overdo it with the cleanser. Use enough to wash the skin, but you don’t need a thick lather.
- Blot your skin dry rather than rubbing it with a towel, and follow immediately with a cream, not lotion, moisturizer.
Healthy Skin from the Inside Out
There are several things you can include in your diet to help keep your skin as healthy as possible.
Drink plenty of water to keep your body and your skin hydrated during the summer months.
Drink plenty of water to keep your body and your skin hydrated. Being well-hydrated during the summer months protects you from difficulty with the heat and helps your skin’s metabolic processes work properly.
Choose lots of colorful fruits and vegetables. Berries, melons, kale, spinach and peppers are just a handful of the foods that contain plenty of beneficial anti-oxidants. The anti-oxidants help your body repair damage done by free radicals in the skin as well as other organs. It just so happens that these delicious foods are readily available during the summer at local grocers, as well as the Chestnut Square Farmer’s Market.
Choose foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as wild salmon and sardines, local free-range eggs and nuts. The Omega-3s help strengthen the outer layer of the skin which serves as a barrier between your body and the rest of the world.
Since you’ll be wearing sunscreen that will prevent you from getting Vitamin D from the sun’s action on your skin, you’ll want to be sure to get that Vitamin D from your diet. Luckily, fatty fish and egg yolks are great sources of Vitamin D in addition to the Omega-3s. You can also get Vitamin D from fortified milk and orange juice, as well as supplements.
Healthy Skin, Happy Summer
Wear sunscreen and mosquito repellant, follow a basic skincare routine and consume a healthy diet. Dermatology & Skin Surgery and other local dermatologists offer resources to provide information about conditions that may require the services of a dermatologist.
About the author: Amy Rogers, M.D. is a freelance writer who loves summertime in McKinney. You can see more of her work at GetMcKinney.com.