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Wisconsin Dermatologist Shares Tips For Keeping Skin Healthy During The Summer

blue sky and sun
Iakov Kalinin
While higher sun protection factors (SPF) on sunscreen bottles can mean more protection from burning rays from the sun, it's important to get a sunscreen that protects from all harmful rays emitted by the sun.

Although it’s only June, it has already been a hot summer. That means many Milwaukeeans are flocking to beaches and pools to cool down, and in doing so, putting themselves at risk of another summertime staple — sun damage. Protecting your skin from the sun not only decreases the risk of cancer, but also keeps it looking youthful.

Dr. Edit Olasz Harken is an associate professor at the Medical College of Wisconsin and a dermatologist who specifically works with aging skin. She says the best way to protect your skin is to cover it up and not expose it to the sun, but when that’s not possible, make sure to use sunscreen. But not all sunscreens are created equal, Harken says sun protection factor (SPF) is not the only things consumers should be looking for.

“[SPF] only measures UV-B protection. So there are two major UV rays, the UV-B and the UV-A, and the UV-B rays are the burning rays, they cause the sunburn and, of course, skin cancer. UV-A rays, more the aging rays, they’re the silent killers I call them because they also cause skin cancer,” she explains.

Higher SPF sunscreens are more likely to contain elements that help protect from UV-A rays, but Harken says to look for the term “broad spectrum” on the bottle of sunscreen to note that it protects against both UV rays.

She says another term to look for on the bottle is “water resistant." No matter if you’re planning on swimming or not, sweat and other contact removes non-water-resistant sunscreens more easily and leaves people less protected, Harken says.

Look at the active ingredients for non-chemical filters — zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, she says, because they do not absorb into your blood stream. Harken says chemical filters can absorb into the blood stream and have a negative effect on the body.

“As a dermatologist, we always say try to use mineral filters,” she says.

While people with lighter skin are at higher risk for skin cancer, Harken says people with darker skin should still be taking precautions like applying sunscreen. She says while having darker skin can protect from UV-B rays, UV-A rays can still damage the body and create a higher risk of cancer.

“Brown and Black people have a much lower risk [of cancer] but it doesn’t mean that their risk is zero,” she says.

Dermatology advice and new products circulate the internet, including social media sites like Instagram and Tik Tok all the time, but Harken says it’s important to contact a dermatologist before trying anything. She advises her patients to bring in products they have been using so she can examine them and decide if she recommends using them.

Her general advice for healthy skin is “morning protection, evening repair." That means sunscreen before leaving the house in the morning and products with moisturizer, antioxidants and collagen stimulation in the evening.

“You don’t need to overdo things, I see a lot of this kind of like, overdoing, too many different ingredients, switching too much and that actually can really harm the skin,” she says.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.
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