Questions and Answers
Ginger Mentz, MD, FAAD
Board Certified Dermatologist
Colorado Springs Dermatology
170 ParkSide Drive - SEE
Colorado Springs, CO 80910
Phone: 719-471-1763 - Call
Dr. Mentz for an Appointment
Rub It On
Get a Hat
Q: When do I need to protect
myself from sun exposure?
A: Protection from sun exposure is
important all year round, not just during the summer or at the
beach. Any time the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays are able to
reach the earth, you need to protect yourself from excessive
sun exposure. UV rays can cause skin damage during any season
Relatively speaking, the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
during daylight savings time (9 a.m. - 3 p.m. during standard
time) are the most hazardous for UV exposure in the continental
United States. UV radiation is the greatest during the late
spring and early summer in North America.
Remember: UV rays reach you on cloudy and hazy days, as well
as bright and sunny days. UV rays will also reflect off any
surface like water, cement, sand, and snow.
Q: What exactly are "ultraviolet
A: Ultraviolet (UV) rays are a part of
sunlight that is an invisible form of radiation. UV rays can
penetrate and change the structure of skin cells.
There are three types of UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA),
ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC). UVA is the most
abundant source of solar radiation at the earth's surface and
penetrates beyond the top layer of human skin. Scientists
believe that UVA radiation can cause damage to connective
tissue and increase a person's risk for developing skin
UVB rays are less abundant at the earth's surface than UVA
because a significant portion of UVB rays is absorbed by the
ozone layer. UVB rays penetrate less deeply into the skin than
do UVA rays, but also can be damaging.
UVC radiation is extremely hazardous to skin, but it is
completely absorbed by the stratospheric ozone layer and does
not reach the surface of the earth.
Q: How can I protect myself from
the sun's UV rays?
A: When possible, avoid outdoor activities
during midday, when the sun's rays are strongest. This usually
means the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You can also wear
protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved
shirt, and long pants.
For eye protection, wear wraparound sunglasses that provide
100 percent UV ray protection. And always wear a broad-spectrum
(protection against both UVA and UVB rays) sunscreen and
lipscreen with at least SPF 15. Remember to reapply as
indicated by the manufacturer's directions.
Also, check the sunscreen's expiration date. Sunscreen
without an expiration date has a shelf life of no more than
three years. Exposure to extreme temperatures can shorten the
expiration date or shelf life of sunscreen.
Q: What can excessive exposure to
UV rays do to my health?
A: UV exposure appears to be the most
important environmental factor in the development of skin
cancer and a primary factor in the development of lip
Although getting some sun exposure can yield a few positive
benefits, excessive and unprotected exposure to the sun can
result in premature aging and undesirable changes in skin
texture. Such exposure has been associated with various types
of skin cancer, including melanoma, one of the most serious and
UV rays also have been found to be associated with various
eye conditions, such as cataracts.
Q: What is the
A: The UV Index was developed by the
National Weather Service and the Environmental Protection
Agency. It provides a forecast of the expected risk of
overexposure to UV rays and indicates the degree of caution you
should take when working, playing, or exercising outdoors.
The UV Index predicts exposure levels on a 0-10+ scale,
where 0 indicates a low risk of overexposure and 10+ means a
very high risk of overexposure. Calculated on a next-day basis
for dozens of cities across the U.S., the UV Index takes into
account clouds and other local conditions that affect the
amount of UV radiation reaching the ground.
The level of danger calculated for the basic categories of
the index are for a person with Type II skin. For a person with
type II skin, for example, an Index value of 5 or 6 represents
a moderate possibility of UV overexposure.
More information about the UV Index is available at the EPA
Web site: http://www.epa.gov/sunwise/uvindex.html.
You can also call the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
hotline at 1-800-296-1996 for more information on the UV
Tanning and Burning
Q: What does a suntan indicate? Why
does the skin tan when exposed to the sun?
A: The penetration of UV rays to the skin's
inner layer results in the production of more melanin. That
melanin eventually moves toward the outer layers of the skin
and becomes visible as a tan.
A suntan is not an indicator of good health. Some physicians
consider the skin's tanning a response to injury because it
appears after the sun's UV rays have killed some cells and
Q: Not everyone burns or tans in the
same manner. Are there ways to classify different skin
A: Whether individuals burn or tan depends
on a number of factors, including their skin type, the time of
year, and the amount of sun exposure they have received
recently. The skin's susceptibility to burning can be
classified on a scale as outlined in the following table:
Skin's Susceptibility to Burning
||Tanning and Sunburning
||Always burns, never tans, sensitive to sun
||Burns easily, tans minimally
||Burns moderately, tans gradually to light
||Burns minimally, always tans well to moderately
||Rarely burns, tans profusely to dark
||Never burns, deeply pigmented, least
Though everyone is at risk for damage as a result of
excessive sun exposure, people with skin types I and II are at
the highest risk.
Rub It On
Q: Does it matter what kind of
sunscreen I use?
A: Sunscreens come in a variety of forms
such as lotions, gels, and sprays, so there are plenty of
different options. There are also sunscreens made for specific
purposes, such as the scalp, sensitive skin, and for use on
babies. Regardless of the type of sunscreen you choose, be sure
that you use one that blocks both UVA and UVB rays and that it
offers at least SPF 15.
Q: What does a sunscreen's SPF
A: Sunscreens are assigned a Sun Protection
Factor (SPF) number according to their effectiveness in
offering protection from UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more
protection. As a rule of thumb, you should always use a
sunscreen with at least SPF 15.
Q: Do sunscreens need to be
reapplied during the course of a day?
A: You should follow the manufacturer's
directions regarding reapplication or you risk not getting the
protection that you might think you are getting. Though
recently developed sunscreens are more resistant to loss
through sweating and getting wet than previous sunscreens were,
you should still reapply frequently, especially during peak sun
hours or after swimming or sweating.
Q: How do sunscreens
A: Most sun protection products work by
absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun's rays. Such
products contain chemicals that interact with the skin to
protect it from UV rays. Sunscreens help prevent problems
related to sun exposure, such as aging skin and precancerous
Keep in mind that sunscreen is not meant to allow you to
spend more time in the sun than you would otherwise. That's why
it is important to complement sunscreen use with other sun
protection options: cover up, wear a hat and sunglasses, and
Q: Some cosmetic products claim
to protect you from UV rays. Can they?
A: There are cosmetics and lip protectors
that contain some of the same protective chemicals used by
sunscreens on the market. However, not all of these products
meet the standard of having at least SPF 15, and therefore do
not offer sufficient protection by themselves.
Q: What kinds of clothing best
protect my skin from UV rays?
A: Clothing that covers your skin protects
against the sun's UV rays. Loose-fitting long-sleeved shirts
and long pants made from tightly woven fabric offer the best
protection. A wet T-shirt offers you much less UV protection
than does a dry one.
If wearing this type of clothing isn't practical, at least
try to wear a t-shirt or a beach cover-up. Keep in mind,
however, that a typical t-shirt actually has an SPF rating
substantially lower than the recommended SPF 15, so double-up
on protection by using sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (and UVA
and UVB protection) and staying in the shade when you can.
Q: Does protective clothing have to
be a certain color?
A: Wearing clothing made of tightly-woven
fabric is best for protecting your skin, regardless of the
color. Darker colors, though, may offer more protection than
Q: It gets so hot here in the
summer, there's no way I could be comfortable in long pants and
a long-sleeved shirt. So, what else can I do to protect my
A: Protecting yourself from the sun's UV
rays doesn't have to be a major chore; it's just a matter of
knowing your options and using them. Wearing a dry T-shirt is a
good start, but it is not enough if you are going to be outside
for more than a few minutes.
If you can't wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt, you
can boost your protection by seeking shade whenever possible
and by always wearing sunscreen with at least SPF 15.
Get a Hat
Q: Will a hat help protect my skin?
Are there recommended styles for the best
A: Hats can help shield your skin from the
sun's UV rays. Choose a hat that provides shade for all of your
head and neck. For the most protection, wear a hat with a brim
all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of
If you choose to wear a baseball cap, you should also
protect your ears and the back of your neck by wearing clothing
that covers those areas, using sunscreen with at least SPF 15,
or by staying in the shade.
Q: For the best protection, what
material should I look for in a hat?
A: A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas,
works best to protect your skin from UV rays. When possible,
avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through.
Q: Does the color of my hat
A: The amount of shade offered by a
particular hat appears to be its most important prevention
characteristic. If a darker hat is an option, though, it may
offer even more UV protection.
Q: Are sunglasses an important
part of my sun protection plan?
A: Yes. Sunglasses protect your eyes from
UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the
tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
Q: What type of sunglasses best
protects my eyes from UV rays?
A: Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB
rays offer the best protection. The majority of sunglasses sold
in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard.
Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays
from sneaking in from the side.
Q: Is there any particular time I
should try to stay in the shade?
A: The sun's UV rays are strongest and do
the most damage during midday, so it's best to avoid direct
exposure between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. You can reduce your
risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an
umbrella, tree, or other shelter before you need relief from
Q: I work outdoors all summer and can't stay in
the shade. What can I do to protect my skin?
A: If you can't avoid the sun, you can
protect your skin by wearing a wide-brimmed hat, wraparound
sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, long-sleeved
shirt, and long pants. You can also wear a sunscreen and
lipscreen with at least SPF 15 and UVA and UVB protection and
reapply according to the manufacturer's directions. When you
can, take your breaks and your lunch in the shade.
Q: If I stay in the shade, should I
still use sunscreen and wear a hat?
A: UV rays can reflect off virtually any
surface (including sand, snow and concrete) and can reach you
in the shade. Your best bet to protect your skin and lips is to
use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you're
outside—even when you're in the shade.