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Top Tips for Summer Skin Safety

What You Need to Know

Father and kid splashing in a pool
  • Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer – accounting for nearly half of all cancer cases.
  • Classifications of skin cancer include basal and squamous cell carcinomas (beginning at the base of the outer layer of your skin) and the more serious melanomas, which begin in cells that protect deeper layers of the skin from the sun.
  • A broad spectrum-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher should be used on all exposed skin, even on cloudy summer days.
  • Water washes off sunscreen – when swimming at the beach or in the pool, be sure to reapply every two hours or so.
  • Mary Sheu, M.D. answered user-submitted skin-related questions on the Johns Hopkins Medicine Facebook page on July 16 from 12-1 p.m. ET. View the question and answer session here.  

Patient Resources

Ask the Expert: Timothy Wang, M.D.

Timothy Wang

How can I best protect my skin during the summertime?

To paraphrase the five basic rules from the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • Apply broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen. Look for sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or more to all exposed skin when spending time outside, even if it’s cloudy. Reapply sunscreen after a few hours, and after activities where it may wash off your skin, such as swimming.
  • Wear protective clothing. Long sleeves, sunglasses and a hat can help protect you from the sun’s rays – and clothing labeled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) is most effective.
  • Stay out of the sun during peak hours if at all possible. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. – so avoid being in direct sunlight whenever possible.
  • Be careful, especially at the beach. Water and sand can reflect and intensify the sun’s rays, so be extra cautious to avoid sunburn. 
  • Avoid tanning beds. Tanning beds, like the sun, can cause skin cancer. If you want to look tan, consider using a spray or self-tanning product -- but continue to use sunscreen as well.

What type of sunscreen should I use, and what should I know about SPF ratings?

Kid holding sunscreen bottle

The sun’s wavelengths that strike Earth include ultraviolet (UV) and visible light. UV light that pertains to sunburn, skin aging and skin cancer is classified as either UV-A (penetrates the skin deeply and is more responsible for aging the skin and tanning), and UV-B (which is more responsible for skin reddening and sunburn). Sunscreens were originally developed to protect against sunburn and thus the SPF describes a sunscreen’s protection against UV-B only.

The SPF is a multiplier of protection against skin reddening and sunburn – for example, if your skin reddens after you are in the sun for 5 minutes, when wearing an SPF 10 sunscreen, it would take 10 times longer for you to burn (i.e. 50 minutes). To denote sunscreens that offer protection against UV-A as well, the FDA mandated that those sunscreens be labeled as “Broad Spectrum.” “Water resistant” refers to how much time a user can expect to get the declared SPF level of protection while swimming or sweating. Two times are permitted on labels: 40 minutes or 80 minutes.

So when you’re looking for a sunscreen, look for one labeled as SPF 30 or more, Broad Spectrum and Water Resistant. Apply sunscreen liberally (about a shot glass worth) and reapply it about every 2 hours or if you sweat or swim.

If I do get a bad sunburn, what are the most effective ways to care for my skin?

First, you cannot reverse the damage caused by a sunburn. It is much better to prevent a sunburn than to treat it. But if you do get a sunburn, here's how to try and alleviate the symptoms.

  1. Get out of the sun. 
  2. Put a cool, damp towel on your skin.  Take a cool bath or shower.  After you get out of the shower, pat yourself dry and use a moisturizer. This will help ease the dryness.
  3. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help.  Of course, only take as directed. 
  4. Drink a lot of water to help replenish fluids that may be lost through your skin.  If you develop blisters, do not pop them.  If you feel sick, seek medical attention as this may indicate a very severe burn. 

Advancements in Skin Cancer Research

Investigational Drug May Increase Survival for Some Patients with Advanced Melanoma

An experimental drug aimed at restoring the immune system's ability to spot and attack cancer halted cancer progression or shrank tumors in patients with advanced melanoma, according to a multisite, early-phase clinical trial at Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and 11 other institutions.

Magnetic Medicine

Using tiny particles designed to target cancer-fighting immune cells, Johns Hopkins researchers have trained the immune systems of mice to fight melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.

The Department of Dermatology

The dermatologists of Johns Hopkins provide the highest quality of care, and integrate diagnostic and therapeutic services to ensure that patients receive the most advanced treatments available.

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