Been Spending Time in the Sun? Check Out Prevention, Planning and Protection Tips from a USF Professor

When it comes to skin protection, sun exposure should be limited. Read along as we offer tips from a USF dermatologist and a local pediatrician.

As temperatures hit the mid-90s last week, it was easy to spot people with sunburned skin who were catching a few rays without knowing the hazards of sun exposure.

Patch spoke with several local pediatricians who said tanning beds and laying out in the sun were cause for concern, in addition to Neil Fenske, a physician and Chief of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery at the University of South Florida. He confirmed that he is seeing younger women with more lesions than he had in the early days of his practice.

“Even a suntan," he said, "is a sign of skin injury."

Fenske added that the World Health Organization has labeled tanning beds a carcinogen. Currently, 32 states have legislation making it illegal for those anyone younger than 18 to use  them without parental consent.

Fenske offered tips for easing the discomfort of a burn, adding that moderate sun exposure is key to prevention.

He also issued a burn notice. “Don’t do it, “ he said, stating that damage to skin from sunburn - even mild ones - is cumulative and serious. Fenske advocates:

  • Avoiding the sun during peak hours ( 10 a.m. until 3 p.m.)
  • Using a sunscreen with a physical barrier, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide
  • Using broad-spectrum sunscreen that covers both ultraviolet A (UV-A) and ultraviolet B (UV-B) rays
  • Wearing sunglasses at all times
  • Use a broad-rimmed hat to shade the face
  • Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts
  • Opting for UPV-resistant clothes
  • Keeping your body hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • An annual check-up with a dermatologist to catch skin changes and initiate early treatment
  • Avoid tanning beds

While Fenske encouraged regular self-check skin exams that can help spot new growths, he also recommends an annual check-up with a physician. Patients with certain risk factors, such as previous bouts with melanoma, should be checked more often, he said.

Applying sunscreen 30 minutes before heading outdoors is a regimen that makes sense, says Fenske.

But not all lotions are equal. 

SPF only refers to protection against B radiation. Instead, look for lotions providing protection against both A and B rays.

The FDA  has approved a new four-star system to clarify both A and B protection offered by sunscreens. Labels will eventually include information that reads something like this: "SPF 30 for B and 4-star for A rays."

Until then, consumers should be savvy shoppers, carefully reading labels and opting for broad spectrum lotions that offer protection against both A and B rays.

If you are taking medication with a label stating there is an increased risk of sunburn, heed the precaution since the American Cancer Society cautions that consumers should check labels. Those that say "cosmetic" block only about 70 percent of radiation. Fenske says one should not assume sunglasses without labels block any radiation at all. 

If you do get sunburned, Fenske suggested these simple treatments:

  • Apply cool and clean compresses. Fenske recommends cold milk, which is soothing to skin. Cool showers also work.
  • Using aloe or creams may provide relief , but those who have been sunburned often have reactions to these products.
  • Leave blisters intact. Breaking them only increases the risk of bacterial infection. You can lightly cover blisters with gauze.
  • Take an over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory (aspirin, ibuprofen)  may alleviate symptoms in adults. Consult a physician for pain relief from sunburn in teenagers and children.
  • Resist the temptation to peel the skin as introduction of serious infection can lead to serious consequences.

Michelle Johnson-Towson, a Carrollwood physician who practices at Pediatric Place on Fletcher Avenue, said sun protective swimsuits, protective tents that provide shade while outdoors and using waterproof sunscreen are worth using.

“Thinking and planning ahead," she said, "are the best ways to prevent sunburn."


American Academy of Dermatology 

American Cancer Society 

Skin Cancer Foundation

USF Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery


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