Ask the Doctor: How should I take care of my skin in the summer?

Tips for healthy summer skin, brought to you by Dr. Dan Phillips of MedAccess Urgent Care.

When Dr. Dan Phillips of MedAccess Urgent Care goes golfing, he applies sunscreen beforehand and every hour after that. However, “fewer than 15 percent of men and 30 percent of women use sunscreen regularly on their face and other exposed skin when outside for more than one hour,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection. On a lovely summer day, the last thing you want to spend your time doing is constantly applying sunscreen. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

Diana Pressey recently spoke with Dr. Phillips, co-founder of MedAccess, to discuss the ins and outs of summer skin care.

Diana Pressey: Why is wearing sunscreen so important?

Dr. Dan Phillips: Well, what you’re trying to do is protect the skin from ultraviolet radiation. The ultimate thing we’re protecting against is skin cancer. If you get sunburn repetitively or severely, you’re increasing your risk of skin cancer. Getting burned is bad skin health, so it’s important that when you’re outside, you either use sunscreen or you wear UV protectant clothing. And there’s a lot of good clothing that is very lightweight but also protects you against the sun. The big thing is you’re really preventing cancer of the skin years down the road.

Pressey: Can people still tan while wearing sunscreen?

Phillips: Yes, absolutely, depending on whatever sunscreen you use and how fair your skin is. You don’t want to burn. We all like to tan, and that is healthy, but when using sunscreen and getting reasonable sun exposure, we naturally tan, and that’s OK. What you don’t wanna do is burn. The skin’s our protective barrier, and a burn is simply an injury to that.

Pressey: What does SPF mean? How frequently do people need to apply sunscreen, and what about when they get wet?

Phillips: SPF refers to how strong the sunscreen is in protecting against ultraviolet radiation. But that doesn’t mean you can avoid reapplying and not get burned. The key with sunscreen to achieve protection is applying every hour. You can’t just throw it on in the morning and expect to be protected all day. In the water, it’s typically more frequent application. Some sunscreens, depending on which ones you get, are water-resistant, but just as far as prudence, I put sunscreen on if I know that I’m going golfing or fishing, I put it on before I go out, I reapply during the day. If I’m out in the summertime and I get in the water with the kids, when I dry off, I reapply. That’s the safest thing to do.

Pressey: What can people do to soothe the pain of a sunburn?

Phillips: Anti-inflammatories such as Aleve or Motrin, for the first two or three days, are really helpful. Tylenol helps, but it doesn’t relieve inflammation like the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs do. The other thing is just skin moisturizing lotions, either things like aloe vera or some of the gold bond moisturizing lotions, things like that, to keep skin moist. Some of those relieve discomfort, as well.

Pressey: Can your scalp and lips get sunburned? How can you avoid that happening?

Phillips: Oh, yeah, scalp sunburns are really painful. If you’re a person with thin hair or a short haircut, you’ve got to put sunscreen on your scalp. For those of us who wear ball caps, ball caps have cutouts in the back and that’s where a bald spot occurs, that can be really painful. So you need to remember to apply sunscreen if you’ve got thinning or thin hair on your scalp. Always get your ears. And use lip protection as well, because certainly your lips can get burned , and then they fissure and crack, and that’s uncomfortable.

Pressey: Can you tell me a little about sunspots?

Phillips: All of us, particularly those of us in my generation, got sunburned as kids, and some tanned too much unprotected, and then you start developing dark spots and other skin disorders. But what you’re really concerned about are melanoma. We all have little brown spots and purple spots and so forth, but what you’re watching for are lesions that suddenly appear or suddenly change color and are almost black. If you see that, you really want to get checked by a dermatologist and get someone who knows what they’re doing to look at it. Those are the cancers that we are trying to prevent, and if we see them, we need to detect early and take care of it, because they’re very aggressive.

Pressey: Do people come into MedAccess with any other skin problems during the summer?

Phillips: The biggest one’s poison ivy, in this time of year, and insect bites. People get out in mulch or the woods, and all the little insects are out there. But by far and away, it’s contact dermatitis, exposure to poison oak, poison ivy, poison sumac. What happens there is the leaf on those plants has an oil that gets on your skin, and then you have an intense local reaction to it. The only way to prevent it if you know you’re exposed is to take a nice, long shower where you soap and wash, soap and wash, and get the oil off the skin. Once you’ve begun to develop the rash of contact dermatitis, typically, if it’s a bad case, steroids are needed to relieve the discomfort.

Pressey: Do you have any bottom line on summer skin care you’d like to share?

Phillips: The big thing, as with many things, is prevention. If you’re going outside, use sunscreen, wear hats, wear appropriate clothes. If you’re going to be in the woods, use insect repellent to prevent the bug bites. And if you do get a sunburn, the easiest treatment is over-the-counter home remedies, but if you get a really bad one where it blisters up, you might want to seek medical help.

Avoid the long wait for your primary care physician by visiting a MedAccess location in Chapel Hill, Roxboro or Youngsville. Walk-in appointments are available, and you can skip the wait entirely by checking in online.

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