Healthy Living: Avoiding sunburns as counties reopen


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With the summer months upon us and counties reopening, more of us are taking advantage of getting outside.

Because we have been spending a lot more time indoors lately while under a stay-at-home order, dermatologists say we are actually at a higher risk for melanoma in the Pacific Northwest as we go from zero to these really severe sun exposures.

“It’s so pleasant to be outside, but it is really easy to get caught out and get a burn unexpectedly, and those bright burns are what leads to melanoma, especially in young people, people under 18," says Dr. Kendra Bergstrom, a professor of dermatology at the University of Washington.

Dr. Bergstrom says it is easy to get caught off-guard because it is dark and damp here, and we are covered up for upwards of nine months a year. She says the sun can sneak in a lot of ways including through the side windows of our car, so as we drive you will see the left side gets a lot more wrinkles.

The sun can also sneak in while you are working from home.

Dr. Bergstrom says if you can see it, the sun can see you. So what is the latest when it comes to sunscreen? Dr. Bergstrom helps us with some of the myths surrounding sun block.

“30 is ideal, 15 is better than nothing and I think over 50 we are just not sure that it offers any extra benefits," she says.

When it comes to spending the extra money on sunscreen marketed for kids, Dr. Bergstrom says skip it and instead look for certain things in the ingredients.

“The sunblocks that can really be helpful for kids are what we call physical blockers like titanium and zinc that reflect, fewer chemicals, great for small kids, the challenge is that they can look a little bit 'ghosty'," she says.

She says those words will assure you that the product is going to stay on the outside of the skin and not penetrate it. She says watch for certain chemicals.

“Some of these larger chemical words you will hear, salicylates avobenzone, those are ones that can absorb into the skin, and especially for kids, we can find it in the blood sometimes," she says.

Dr. Bergstrom says it is important to keep an eye and do regular skin checks, and ask for help because the most common place for melanoma in men is the back, and for women it is the back of the legs. Both can be tough to check on your own.

So, the next time you're thinking, "oh my burn will turn into a tan," Dr. Bergstrom says think again.

“Ultraviolet light can actually cause little cracks in our DNA, especially on the skin where it reaches, and those cracks are often repaired but when we get a lot at once, like say a bad burn, the body has a hard time bouncing back. And some of those damages might not be fixed and might stay with us and kind of get stacked up on over our whole life of sun," she says.

Dr. Bergstrom says to prevent damage, get in a daily routine of applying sunscreen to the face, neck and chest, along with what she calls the forgotten areas like the side of the neck and the ears.


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