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Northern Exposure: Kaiser Permanente Dermatologist Shares Tips for Healthy Fun in the Sun

With warm summer weather around the corner, it’s important to step up our skincare regimes to protect ourselves from the sun’s dangerous UV rays. That doesn’t necessarily mean staying inside. In the following Q&A, Megan Moore, MD, a dermatologist at Kaiser Permanente, shares some tips on how to stay safe while still having fun in the great outdoors this summer.

Q: What is the most common misconception about being outside and sun protection?
A: Many people still believe a tan is healthy and having a tan early in the summer will protect them from sun damage later in the summer. If your skin has changed color from sun exposure, this is a sign UV rays have reached your melanocytes (pigment cells). UV rays cause DNA damage and skin damage–even when you don’t get a sunburn. UV radiation also can cause skin cancer and lead to premature aging. In fact, aging is caused by UVA rays that are longer and penetrate more deeply than UVB rays, but do not typically cause redness and sunburn.

Q: What SPF factor should people be wearing these days?
A: The American Academy of Dermatology recommends everyone to use sunscreen that offers broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays), is water-resistant, and has an SPF 30 or higher. SPF 30 blocks 97 percent of the sun’s UVB rays. Higher SPF sunscreens may block somewhat more of the sun’s UVB rays, but no sunscreen can block 100 percent. A higher SPF sunscreen does not allow you to spend additional time outdoors without reapplication. SPF (sun protection factor) is measured based on ideal application of sunscreen–an ounce for your whole body. For many people, this seems like A LOT of sunscreen! With actual use, the effective SPF you get might be lower. You should also typically reapply sunscreen every two hours (or more frequently, depending on activities such as sweating or swimming).

Q: Parents can be confused by all the different types of sunscreens. What do you recommend?
A: The best sunscreen is one you will use! Parenting, whether one child or many, is all about compromise and prioritization. I like to have a mix of sunscreen options on hand. Younger children might not mind the white residue of a zinc oxide formulation, and they might even enjoy applying it themselves. Sticks are great for them. Older children might prefer a spray, a tinted physical blocker or a chemical sunscreen. Some days are more successful than others, and the inside of my minivan has a nice coating of zinc oxide! Again, compromises. There are so many competing priorities we have to balance as parents. You want your kids to be healthy by having lots of active time outdoors.

Q: In addition to sunscreen, what else can people do to protect themselves outside? Do you have any favorite products?
A: Protective clothing is as important or more important than sunscreen. Many patients tell me, “I’m not a hat person!” Try to become one. It is a simple thing you can do to protect your skin. Make it a habit, stash hats in your car, bag, and by your front door. A baseball cap is a good start, but a wide-brimmed hat that shades your whole face, ears and neck is much better.

Q: What are the best hours to be outside?
A: Seek shade when you can. If you can’t be in the shade, consider doing more activities outside before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. If your shadow is longer than you are tall, there is less UV to worry about. Consider using shade sails, umbrellas, planting trees or incorporating other shade structures into your environment when possible.

Q: Can you tell us how you balance your love of sports with a healthy lifestyle and sun protection?

A: I grew up swimming, but after becoming a doctor and having four children, I thought I was too busy to continue this passion. But then a patient inspired me to get back in the pool. She said, “Dr. Moore, stop waiting for the right time. Find a partner, get accountable, and get back in the pool.” I needed that reality check! I signed up for a master’s program that afternoon and haven’t looked back. My husband has been incredibly supportive and knows that my active hobbies make me happier, healthier and a better parent, partner and physician. I am so grateful to be a part of a team with teammates and coaches who keep me motivated and accountable. There’s nothing like seeing the sunrise over Mt. Diablo, then getting home before everyone else is up. My day is always better if I start with a swim or run. The greatest benefits to your health will come from physical activity, connection with others and time spent outside. So, put on a hat, grab some sunscreen, and head out the door.

Megan Moore, MD, is a dermatologist at the Kaiser Permanente Walnut Creek Medical Center. She is a triathlete who swims in a relay across Lake Tahoe every summer.

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