Sun Safety: What You Need to Know to Protect Your Skin this Summer

A headshot of a medical professional, he has on a white coat, light blue shirt, and tie, he smiles at the camera

In Florida, we’re lucky to have sunshine and access to beautiful waterways year-round. While enjoying the outdoors, it’s important to always protect your skin from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.

We spoke with Louis Pizano, MD, director of the Miami Burn Center at Ryder Trauma Center | Jackson Memorial Hospital, one of the leading burn treatment facilities in the nation, who shared what you need to know about sun exposure, how to choose the best sun protection, and what to do if you get a sunburn.

Q: Why do I need to worry about sun exposure?

A: Prolonged exposure to UV rays can cause significant damage to our skin – leading to painful sunburns, increased risk of developing skin cancer, and skin aging.

At the burn center, our goal is to provide the highest level of care to burn victims, while also educating people on how to best protect their skin and prevent unnecessary burns.

There are two types of sun rays that can cause damage: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA is associated with skin aging, and UVB is associated with sunburns and skin cancer.

Q: What should I wear to protect my skin from UV rays?

A: There are several ways to protect your skin when out in the sun. The most common is using sunscreen or sunblock. While many people use the terms interchangeably, they work differently to protect your skin. Sunscreen filters and absorbs some of the sun’s rays, while sunblock blocks the rays from penetrating the skin.

When choosing a sunscreen or sunblock, it’s important to make sure it’s labeled as broad spectrum, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Most sunblocks only work on UVB, so be sure to read the labels carefully. If you are worried about skin aging due to sun exposure, read the ingredients and make sure, they include three percent avobenzone and at least 15 percent zinc oxide, which protect against UVA rays.

When buying a sunblock or sunscreen, choose one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 50 or higher. While many dermatologists and skin cancer associations recommend SPF 30 or above, I suggest SPF 50 because it absorbs 98 percent of UV rays, whereas SPF 30 absorbs 96.7 percent.

There is a minimal increase in protection with an SPF of more than 50. Instead of worrying about higher SPF, it is more important to ensure you are applying it correctly, with even coating over exposed parts of the body at least every two hours when spending time in the sun.

You can also buy sun-protective clothing, which can have an ultraviolet protective factor up to 50. When using clothing with sun protection, you don’t have to worry about reapplying sunscreen or sunblock to the covered areas.
Even if you are wearing sunscreen or sunblock, it is a good idea to wear a shirt, hat, and other clothing as much as possible to limit the amount of UV rays that penetrate the skin.

Q: What do I do if I get a sunburn?

A: Sunburns are usually first-degree burns, which involve the first layer of the skin. If you have a mild sunburn, make sure to keep the affected areas moisturized. Over time, you may notice skin flaking. Be sure to continue moisturizing your skin often. Stay out of the sun, and the burn should heal in about a week.

If your skin blisters and the top layer of skin peels off, you have a second-degree burn. In this instance, it’s important to seek care from a doctor. You might need an antimicrobial agent to protect you from developing an infection. These kinds of sunburns may take two to three weeks to heal.