“To Sun or Not to Sun”

It’s summer and that means time for fun in the SUN!

I love the sun, but these days, I spend a lot of time figuring out how I can limit my exposure.

You see, I really don’t need any more of those “cracks” on my face (what my daughter called wrinkles when she was young!).  I also had a basal cell skin cancer removed from my chest about two years ago.  All is well, but that was the scare I needed to become more diligent about my sun exposure.

Now, I spend more time trying to keep up with the latest guidance on sunscreens and worrying if I’m getting enough “sun” (Vitamin D) because I have significantly lessened my exposure.

I know that we need the sun for Vitamin D production, but how much do I need?

To help me (us) with these “burning” (pun intended!) questions, I turned Lesley Sutherland, M.D. Lesley is currently in her final year of Dermatology residency at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she also completed medical school.  She is originally from Annapolis, MD.  ​​​​​​​

An Interview with Lesley Sutherland, M.D. 

How much sun exposure should I get a day?  

And the answer is… you shouldn’t think about it!!! Do what you want! Go outside when you want to and know that it is okay to stay indoors too. Don’t think that you NEED to go outside for your health (mental health excluded!). The reason why we are talking about this topic is because of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a hot topic amongst the medical community, and the debate can often get heated amid the general public, as well. The dermatology community says that getting your daily dose of Vitamin D through sunlight is no excuse for not wearing sunscreen… even if it’s only for 20 minutes a day. The reason behind this is there are many credible studies showing no link between Vitamin D deficiency and regular sunscreen use in normal, healthy individuals. This is most likely due to the fact that people aren’t applying sunscreen properly and because sunscreen does not block 100% of UV radiation. It is true that many Americans are deficient in Vitamin D for one reason or another and it should be treated. Treating with an oral supplement is completely sufficient and the preferred method for getting your daily Vitamin D. My recommendation?  Take a daily multivitamin, wear sunscreen and if particularly concerned about your Vitamin D level, have your physician do a blood test to check the level and then supplement with additional vitamins as needed. There are a lot of reasons not to want to wear sunscreen (wanting a tan, the feel of sunscreen on your skin, forgetting, etc.), so don’t let Vitamin D be one of them!

What’s the latest guidance on sunscreen?  

The current recommendations for sunscreen use by the American Academy of Dermatology are:

1. Wear an SPF >30

2. Apply sunscreen 15 minutes prior to sun exposure

3. Apply a ton of sunscreen (one ounce of sunscreen for whole body coverage)

4. Have someone else apply to hard to reach areas

5. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

If you can follow all of those rules you are a better woman (or man) than I. My recommendations are:

1. You should ALWAYS put a SPF of >30 on your face every day… even in the winter. It only takes seeing horrible skin cancer on the face once to make you a sunscreen believer.

2. When outdoors at the beach or the pool, try to adhere to the AAD guidelines

3. Sun protection clothing and hats are always great, too

4. Do your best. Proper photoprotection is hard work but trust me, it’s worth it!

I’m hearing a lot of people talking damaging chemicals in sunscreens.  Should I be concerned?  

The short answer is no. The media is all hyped up about this topic and this is why… There was a research study in which mice were force fed very high amounts of oxybenzone (common active ingredient in most sunscreens) and this caused some of their hormones to become abnormal. Now yes, that sounds scary, however, mathematical models predict it would take applying a product containing a fairly high concentration of oxybenzone all over your body, every single day, for 277 years to achieve the oxybenzone levels that were described in the mice in that study. Also, no legitimate study has ever shown any hormone disruption in humans. So, is oxybenzone safe? In my opinion, yes. All of this aside, it should be noted that many people are allergic or can become allergic to oxybenzone.  So, for this reason, we recommend that children under the age of three and individuals with sensitive skin, use inorganic based sunscreens (such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide)

ImageLesley Sutherland, M.D.

PGY4 Dermatology Resident at the University of Maryland School of Medicine


(Blog coming soon!)