The best ways to protect your skin from the sun this summer

Memorial Day weekend is here which means many Americans will be spending more time in the sun. Experts are using the holiday as a moment to remind people about preventing sunburns and, in more severe cases, skin cancer. Stephanie Sy spoke with Dr. Adewole Adamson for advice on staying safe in the sun.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    As we mentioned, Memorial Day weekend is here, which means many Americans will be spending more time in the sun.

    Experts are using the holiday as a moment to remind people about preventing sunburns and, in more severe cases, skin cancer.

    Stephanie Sy is back with what folks need to know.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Geoff, the American Skin Cancer Society estimates that over 97,000 cases of invasive melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, will be diagnosed this year alone.

    Here to share some advice on staying safe in the sun is dermatologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Ade Adamson.

    Dr. Adamson, thank you so much, and happy Memorial Day to you.

    First of all, who is most at risk of skin cancer?

    Dr. Ade Adamson, University of Texas at Austin: People that identify as non-Hispanic white, people that have lighter skin are the folks that are at the highest risk of developing melanoma, although anyone, regardless of race or ethnicity, can develop melanoma.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Yes, you know, I kind of grew up as a person of color not thinking I needed to wear all that much sunscreen.

    But the latest research doesn't necessarily bear out that people that look like you and I are any safer from skin cancer; is that correct?

  • Dr. Ade Adamson:

    That's correct.

    So, as I said, people of color can develop skin cancer, or melanoma, but it's usually not in places that get a lot of sun. And, therefore, U.V. protective behaviors for skin cancer prevention and people of darker skin types is not necessarily the same as people that are white in the United States.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    How much does sunscreen reduce the risk of skin cancer for those who are more susceptible to it?

  • Dr. Ade Adamson:

    So, sunscreen has been shown to reduce skin cancer.

    Now, there are two general categories of skin cancer. There's melanoma and there's non-melanoma skin cancer, which are basal cells and squamous cell carcinomas.

    Well, melanoma represents only 1 percent of the amount of skin cancer that's out there. The other 99 percent are basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. And both are caused in part by sun exposure, although non-melanoma skin cancer is more associated with the sun than is melanoma.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    What are common mistakes that people make when using a sunscreen.

  • Dr. Ade Adamson:

    One common mistake is that people leave their sunscreen in their cars or out in the sun. And if the sunscreen heats up too much, it'll become less effective. And one way to combat that, say, at the beach is to put your sunscreen in the cooler. And I think that has two effects.

    One, it protects it against the heat. And, two, when you need to reapply after a couple of hours, and it's hot, it'll feel good going on the skin.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    There has been more attention in recent years, Doctor, on the amount of chemicals, though, in sunscreens, not only out of concern for the environment, some of those chemicals, but our health.

    Does using the wrong type of sunscreen pose a health risk?

  • Dr. Ade Adamson:

    So, the short answer is no. There haven't been any studies that have shown that using sunscreen is harmful to your health.

    Now, there have been some studies in mice or rats giving them megadoses of some of the active ingredients in certain sunscreens, and that causing some endocrine disruption. But those doses don't come close to the amount that people wear with usual types of sunscreen.

    And what I would say about the environmental impact of sunscreen is that that too is from data that was done in a lab where they exposed coral reef to some active ingredients in sunscreens and showed that it did affect the coral. But what's causing coral to die is global warming, not sunscreen.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And just to clarify, if somebody wanted to be extra safe, not to expose themselves to too many chemicals, there are other types of sunscreens, right, with particular ingredients that have fewer chemicals?

  • Dr. Ade Adamson:

    So, there are two general types of sunscreens.

    They're ones that have active ingredients with chemical sunscreens and then the physical sunscreens. Now, physical sunscreens have two important ingredients in them called titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. And those types of sunscreens, those active ingredients don't get in — don't absorb into the body, as do chemical sunscreens, which are basically all the other active ingredients.

    Avobenzone and oxybenzone are two types of chemical sunscreens. So, if you want to be extra, extra safe, you could stick with sunscreens that have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. And all you need to do was flip the back — to the back of the bottle and check for those two chemical names.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    But, either way, it sounds like wear it as we head into the summer season.

    Dr. Ade Adamson with the University of Texas at Austin, thank you so much.

  • Dr. Ade Adamson:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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