A Message from the President — Summer 2015

While announcing his Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer in a press conference last summer, then Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak recalled a recent family beach trip where he “got sloppy” and neglected to reapply sunscreen after swimming.  Despite being under an umbrella, Lushniak woke up from a nap with a sunburn.  On a subsequent beach trip, he was determined to be more careful. This time, he applied sunscreen, wore a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and sun-protective clothing, and sat in the shade. “It didn’t take away from the joy of being at the beach and outdoors. It didn’t take away from a great experience,” he recalled.

Yes, even the highest-ranking public health official in the country—a dermatologist, no less—admitted having forgotten to reapply sunscreen. The more important message from his story, however, was that he made a conscious choice to be sun-safe from then on. “I protected myself, I did the right public health thing,” said Lushniak.

As we settle into summer, spending more time enjoying the outdoors, we all have this choice to make every day. To me, it’s the only right choice. Each time we go out, we expose ourselves to the sun’s damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays, and all of this damage adds up throughout our lives.  Skin cancer rates are rising alarmingly, with 1 in every 5 people afflicted – chances are, you know someone who has it – and we know that 90 percent of skin cancers are caused by UV exposure.  Even if skin cancer seems like a distant danger to you (it really isn’t), think about your appearance: more than 90 percent of the signs of skin aging (wrinkles, dark spots, sagging, leathering) are also caused by UV exposure.  In short, whether your main concern is skin cancer or your looks, choose to protect your skin.

Without putting much thought into it, you probably do many things throughout the day to protect your health: you brush your teeth, eat fruits and vegetables, and wear a seatbelt when driving. Is practicing daily sun protection on that list?

Once you make the choice, it’s easy to add sun safety into your daily routine. Find a good broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher that you like. If you’re going to be out in the sun for some hours, make it SPF 30 or higher. Apply it before dressing in the morning, and reapply it every two hours outdoors or after swimming or sweating.  Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts; many fashionable clothing brands with a high “ultraviolet protection factor” (UPF) exist today that keep you cooler in the sun than wearing nothing, so you can be chic and sun-protected at the same time.  And when spending an extended amount of time outdoors, seek the shade. At parks, cafes, pools, or sporting events, sit under shade structures, umbrellas or leafy trees.

Before you know it, the conscious steps you take to stay sun-safe each day will become second nature. They will seem to you the way they seem to me – the only right choice you can make for healthy, attractive skin.

Perry Robins, MD

Published on July 20, 2015