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Made in the Shade: Top 5 Tips for Sun Safety

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Dermatologist Neil Shah offers his top five tips for sun safety this summer.

1. Make sunscreen your last line of defense. Sunscreen is important, but it’s actually comes in last in Dr. Neil Shah’s list of ways to protect your skin (see his 4 additional tips below). “And when you do use sunscreen,” says Dr. Shah, “read the label and identify the active ingredients. Zinc and/or titanium are the safest, most effective ingredients, plus are the least likely to cause irritation. SPF 30 is the magic number: any higher than that has no additional clinical benefit.” He also recommends using a thick layer, using one ounce (approximately one shot glass) for each application. If you’re going through your sunscreen quickly, you’re doing it right.

2. Look in the mirror. Be aware of how sensitive your skin is to the sun, and act accordingly. “The darkest skin has a natural SPF of 15. But a redhead? There’s almost no natural protection from the sun. It’s a foregone conclusion that the sun will have dramatic effects on the aging of a redhead’s skin or that of a lighter-skinned person. If you’re extra-light, take extra precautions.

3. Check with your doctor. There are certain types of chemotherapy, blood pressure medication and antibiotics that can dramatically affect your skin’s response to the sun. “Drugs can make your skin photosensitive, so it’s extra-important to ask your doctor about sun safety if you are on any prescriptions.”

4. Create artificial shade. Clothing is under-appreciated as protection from the sun, so skip the tank top and cover up your arms and back. “You don’t need fancy UPF fabrics to get good protection,” says Dr. Shah. “If I could get everyone to do one thing, it would be to wear a hat with a brim of 3″ or more. It’s cheaper than sunscreen, there are no chemicals on your body, and you put it on once and it protects you all day.”

5. Make like a vampire. Well, almost: while you don’t need to avoid daylight at all costs, there are certain hours of the day that you should shun like a Transylvanian fiend. “The peak hours of the most harmful sun exposure are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don’t go for a run over noon, and try to plan your summer events for 5 or later for the best protection.”

Have your own sun-savvy tips to share? Add them in the comments section below.

About the Author:

Dr. Neil A. Shah is a board-certified dermatologist, the founder and medical director of Clarus Dermatology and Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota. Dr. Shah completed his residency at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and is a member of the American Academy of Dermatology, the American Medical Association, a Diplomat of the American Board of Dermatology, a Fellow of the American Society for Mohs Surgery and a member of the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery. Outside of clinical practice, Dr. Shah enjoys travel with his wife, Sara, as well as cooking, woodworking and auto racing. If you see any hair on his scrubs his white Labrador retriever Stockholm is to blame.

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