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From an Expert: What You Should Know About Sun Safety

Sunburn vs. Tan, Tips to Protect Your Skin, and More

 |  For Patients

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. and it is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. In a culture where tan skin is considered beautiful, it is easy to fall into the trap of regularly looking for ways to soak up the sun. Living in Arizona, we have easy access to the natural UV rays with an average of 299 sunny days per year.

We spoke with Dr. Matthew Woods from Desert Sky Dermatology and Surgical Center to get a doctor’s recommendation on sun safety as we head into the summer months.

The Truth About Sunburn

Have you ever heard someone say they want to get a sunburn because it will turn into a tan eventually? If you hear someone say this, you may want to urge them to think twice.

“Sunburn is caused by inflammation and increased blood flow to the skin in response to the UV-induced damage to the DNA of skin cells,” Dr. Woods said.

The damage done to skin cells makes sunburn an acute injury to the skin and unfortunately there is nothing you can do to reverse this type of injury. Dr. Woods said the best thing to do is learn from the mistake and soothe the burn with aloe vera. He said topical steroids like cortisone cream can also help reduce the inflammation.

The Difference Between a Sunburn and a Tan

If you are someone who has bragged about your tan lines, you will also want to think twice the next time you see tan lines after a day in the sun.

“A tan can be considered a more chronic, ongoing injury to the skin and is NOT healthy,” Dr. Woods said. “The excess melanin pigment does not develop until after there has been actual DNA damage to the skin cells. It is an adaptive response of the body to minimize further damage.”

While tan lines may seem harmless, they are still an indicator of DNA damage. The destruction under your skin increases your risk of skin cancer and photoaging, including solar lentigines (sun spots) and rhytides (wrinkles).

What is the Best Way to Protect My Skin?

“People who have beautiful skin later in life have, without exception, protected their skin from the sun,” Dr. Woods said.

He recommends using a daily moisturizing sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. It needs to be a broad-spectrum sunscreen with “physical blockers” such as zinc oxide. Dr. Woods’ personal favorites include:

  • Isdin Eryfotona Actinica
  • Elta MD UV Clear
  • Blue Lizard

Dr. Woods also recommends wearing sunglasses, a wide-brim hat, and sun protective clothing when you are outdoors. Making sun protection an everyday habit will reduce your risk of skin cancer. It is also important to avoid artificial sources of UV exposure such as tanning beds.

When Should I See a Dermatologist?

We recommend seeing a dermatologist for an annual skin exam once a year for a total body examination to detect skin cancers early. Checking your skin regularly for the ABCDEs of melanoma is also important. If you notice any suspicious moles or spots on your skin, or if you notice changes in your skin tell your doctor immediately.

Need Help Scheduling an Appointment?

Arizona Care Network’s concierge team is part of your healthcare team and can help you set up an appointment with an in-network dermatologist. Call 602.406.7226 or email for assistance.

Sources: American Academy of Dermatology

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