Protecting Your Skin: Safe Sunning in the Hamptons

woman applying lotion
Photo: rido/123rf

Summer in the Hamptons is here—time for East End outdoor fun: beaches, tennis, waterskiing and kite surfing—all while the bright sun shines down.

We spoke with Southampton’s skin cancer and cosmetic dermatology expert, Dr. Kenneth Mark, about everything we need to know to protect ourselves from the sun and make it a great summer! Dr. Mark is a Clinical Assistant Professor at New York University’s Department of Dermatology and has practices in East Hampton, Southampton, Soho and Aspen.

Besides avoiding sunburns, the key is understanding that “There’s no such thing as a healthy tan.” Any tan is a sign your skin has been damaged. It’s important to minimize exposure when the sun is most intense—specifically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. If you’re in the sun during these hours, use broad spectrum SPF, sun-protective clothing, and other physical barriers such as umbrellas.

If you’ve had plastic surgery, should you avoid the sun?
Besides avoiding the sun in general, if you’ve had any surgery, or any inflammation of the skin, you want to avoid the sun. The reason for this is that inflammation—from trauma or plastic surgery—can stimulate your pigment cells. If you’re exposed to the sun and you have stimulated pigment cells, you can be at risk for post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation. Therefore, I recommend wearing sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses to minimize potential damage.

What should you look for in a sunscreen?
You want something with both UVA and UVB protection. The simplest thing to look for is a sunscreen that contains zinc oxide. Today’s formulations are not the thick pasty creams of the past. You can still get the same great full-spectrum protection without leaving a white film on your skin.

What are some common mistakes made when applying sunscreen?
The two biggest mistakes are not putting enough on and not reapplying frequently enough. You should be putting on suntan lotion 20 minutes before exposure as well.

What suncare products do you use?
I prefer one called DNA Damage Control because it has DNA repair enzymes along with the zinc oxide. It’s the only sunscreen I sell in my offices.

If you have sensitive skin, what sunscreen do you recommend?
Again, the zinc oxide formulations are what you need. Besides offering the best full-spectrum coverage, these lotions tend to soothe sensitive skin. Zinc oxide is also good for acne-prone skin.

What should you wear for sun protection?
A hat is a great idea. The number one site for skin cancer is the nose, so if you can keep that physically protected you’re off to a good start! There’ve been advances in stylish clothes that also offer UV protection and still provide excellent athletic functionality. Sunglasses are, of course, the key for protecting the eyes and the delicate skin of the eyelids.

What’s new in sun safety?
The most exciting thing is that, over the past few years, the FDA has approved several drugs for Melanoma that actually prolong survival. The key is still prevention and early detection, but at least there are now some options even for those with advanced Melanoma. Everyone should see a dermatologist at least once a year and perform self-checks as well.

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