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Be Sun Smart: Protect Yourself From UV Rays

Dr. Ilana DeLuca shares tips for protecting yourself from UV rays.
Be Sun Smart: Protect Yourself From UV Rays
Ilana DeLuca, MD, PhD
Ilana DeLuca, MD, PhD is a board-certified dermatologist with a Ph.D. in Immunology and is affiliated with The George Washington University Hospital. Her goal is to empower patients with the knowledge and tools needed to both prevent and treat their skin concerns.

Learn more about Ilana DeLuca, MD, PhD

Dr. Mike Smith (Host):  So, more and more people are wanting to go outside as we get into the spring and summer months and that’s a fantastic thing. Lots of parks, lots of people going swimming. This is all good. But we want to be smart and we want to protect ourselves from UV rays. I’m going to talk with Dr. Illana DeLuca. She is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at GW Hospital. Dr. DeLuca, welcome to The GW Hospital HealthCast.

Illana DeLuca, MD, PhD, FAAD (Guest):  Thanks so much.

Host:  So, Dr. DeLuca, can you share with us why we need to protect ourselves from UV rays?

Dr. DeLuca:  Sure. So, the sun emits UV radiation and we know that UV radiation is a proven human carcinogen. Meaning it causes cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that about one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer over the course of their lifetime. And the vast majority of skin cancers are caused by the sun, by the UV radiation emitted from the sun. So, unprotected sun exposure becomes a really preventable risk factor for skin cancer.

Host:  And that’s a good point that you make right there, preventable, right. We don’t want to scare people. We do want them to enjoy the summer months. It’s fantastic. It’s just a matter of doing some preventative measures to reduce that chance and that risk. So, I want to talk a little bit about what some of those strategies are. Let’s start first with the amount of sun exposure that is healthy for us. So, if I’m planning a trip with my kids, we are going out to the pool; should we be out in the sun for ten minutes, twenty minutes? Is there any timeframe that you like to teach your patients?

Dr. DeLuca:  So, there’s not. That’s a really good question and there really isn’t any safe amount of time that we can be out in the sun unprotected. Really, it’s all about being in the sun as long as you need to be in order to live your life and enjoy your activities; but just be smart about protecting your skin. So, if you are going to the beach or the pool; the first component of a smart sun protection strategy is to seek shade when you can. If you are sitting on the beach or sitting at the pool; sit under an umbrella. If you are picnicking, sit under a tree with some shade.

Protective clothing is super important and that’s a really easy way to protect yourself while still enjoying your outdoor activities. So, I’m a big fan of long-sleeved Rash Guards when we are at the beach or the pool because they are protecting your chest, your back, your arms and you don’t have to worry about applying sunscreen to those areas.

And then obviously, wide brimmed hats and sunglasses. Sunglasses are super important for protecting the delicate skin around your eyes. And then sunscreen is a huge component of a smart sun protection strategy.

Host:  Right. Definitely want to get into the sunscreens, the best ones, how to apply it, all that, but before we do; a lot of people believe especially if you are around a swimming pool or maybe lucky enough to go to a beach and once you get in the water, a lot of people believe that that can make the sun damage worse. Is that true? Is it okay to go swimming if you are a guy, without your shirt on or do you still think people should wear protective clothing even when they are swimming?

Dr. DeLuca:  I think you should definitely wear protective clothing when you are swimming. I think long sleeve Rash Guards for swimming are crucial. We know that when you are near water, snow, sand; these surfaces all reflect the sun’s rays, so you are getting – you are increasing your chance of a sunburn and then water resistance sunscreen is great. It protects you for up to 80 minutes while you are in the water. You obviously want to reapply when you come out, but those strategies are safe and effective, and they allow you to swim and enjoy your activities as much as you can.

Host:  So, let’s go to sunscreens now. You can go into just about any convenience store, drug store and there are so many choices. So, can you first just give us – help us to understand. Like how am I picking the right sunscreen that I know is going to protect me and how often should I really be applying that?

Dr. DeLuca:  Yeah, great questions. So, with climate change; springtime is coming earlier, and summer is lasting longer, so using sunscreen for longer periods of the year is becoming more and more important and people always want to know like what is the best sunscreen, how do I use it so that I’m getting the benefits.

Basically, sunscreens come in two different flavors. There are physical sunscreens which are also called mineral sunscreens and those contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. And then there’s chemical sunscreens and those have longer names like avobenzone and oxybenzone. I always recommend a mineral sunscreen. So, we know that mineral sunscreens are safe and effective, and they are also broad spectrum meaning they block both UVA and UVB rays, both of which come from the sun and both of which contribute to our skin cancer development.

In terms of the SPF, I say to use an SPF 30 or higher. I don’t think that using SPF lower than 30 makes sense. And then you want to apply generously. So, usually people are not applying enough sunscreen. You want to use, for most adults, using about one ounce or like enough to fill a shot glass is what you would need to fully cover your body. And it’s easy. The thing I like about the mineral sunscreens is that they do have a little bit of tint in them which can be annoying, but it actually is great in terms of recognizing missed areas. Because that’s so common when you apply sunscreen when you are at the beach, to miss a spot and then you get a sunburn just in that area. With the mineral sunscreens, you can really tell where you are applying it and make sure you are fully covering all of the exposed areas of the skin.

And then reapplication is so important. This is a big thing that I think most people forget. You really have to reapply it every two hours and then when you come out of the water or after you have been sweating a lot; you definitely want to towel off and reapply it again.

Host:  Yeah, I think you hit on some really important stuff there that we have to use the right amount of sunscreen and you mentioned it’s about a shot glass full. Most people are not doing a shot glass full when they are putting sunscreen on. And then reapplying every couple of hours and that’s something else I think people get – they are having fun, they just kind of forget that. But if you really want to take advantage of those products; put on enough and reapply every two hours.

Okay Doc, I really appreciate it. That’s Dr. Illana DeLuca. She is an Assistant Professor of Dermatology at GW Hospital. Thanks for checking out this episode of The GW Hospital HealthCast. Please visit and get connected with Dr. DeLuca or another provider. If you found this podcast helpful, please share it on your social channels and be sure to check the entire podcast library for topics of interest to you. And be sure to check back soon for the next podcast. I’m Dr. Mike Smith. Thanks for listening.