By Neil A. Thurlow Pharm.D, MBA
Director, Pharmacy Operations
Maine Veterans’ Homes – MVH Pharmacies
Pharmacists are a resource for a wide variety of health-related topics. One that is of particular importance to me is sun protection. Being outside, especially during the summer months, is often something we in the northeast look forward to all winter long, whether it’s days at the beach, gardening, or simply sitting outside to enjoy the sunshine. With this natural changing of the seasons, it is imperative to remember that sun protection at every age is an essential part of maintaining overall health.
My interest in the subject stems from the simple fact that I hate getting a sunburn. I spend a lot of time outside during the summer, and getting a sunburn is very uncomfortable. As a result, I have made it a point over the years to educate others and myself on the subject of sun safety. The following is a basis for protecting yourself when spending time in the sun during our Maine summer.
Measuring The Sun
The UV index is a key component to understanding the potential for sun exposure when spending time outside. Several websites and apps report daily UV indexes for the area that you live or may be visiting. The EPA defines UV index on a 0-11 scale: The lower the number, the less sun protection is required.
Any UV index above 3 means that sun protection when in direct sunlight is recommended. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, there are two main types of UV: UVA and UVB. UVA is associated with aging skin, and UVB is more directly related to sunburn. This is why sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB is what is generally recommended. It is also essential to understand that UVA is present throughout all seasons and is not filtered by windows or cloud cover.
Sometimes, looking at sunscreen is like looking at alphabet soup. The following are some tips for choosing sun protection:
- Look for Broad Spectrum on the Sunscreen Label; this means it protects against UVA and UVB.
- Use SPF 30 or higher for best protection, these filter out 97 percent of UVB.
- Water-resistant labeling means that sunscreen is effective for 40 minutes in the water and then should be reapplied.
- Similarly, sunscreen labeled as “sport” means that it is resistant to sweat for 40 to 80 minutes and should be reapplied.
- It is recommended that all sunscreen be reapplied after 2 hours
As a pharmacist, I recommend that sunscreen be applied approximately 15 minutes before direct sunlight when possible. In addition, there are products on the market that provide UPF (Ultra Violet Protection Factor). Clothes offer some degree of protection from the sun. However, specific clothing, typically hats, sun, or swim shirts, provides protection from the sun that is comparable to sunscreen. This is a great option to cover skin when swimming or when in direct sunlight.
There is always something to learn about sun protection, and it seems products are coming out all of the time to protect from sun exposure. For now, wear sunscreen, reapply, protect skin from direct sunlight, stay in the shade when possible, enjoy the summer weather and ask your pharmacist any questions you may have!
About Maine Veterans’ Homes – Pharmacies
MVH Pharmacies is affiliated with Maine Veterans’ Homes, an independent, nonprofit organization with six Homes throughout the state that serve Veterans, their spouses, and Gold Star parents. We were born out of the desire to provide the highest quality of long-term care pharmacy services for everyone.