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Keep skin safe from the sun-pharmacy corner-June 2017

By Stephanie Simons,
Head Pharmacist,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire

As the weather brightens up and that summer feeling takes a hold of Bermuda, many of us are spending more and more time outdoors. And with the water warming up, the America’s Cup and upcoming public holidays, who can blame us for wanting to make the most of the sunshine!

But whilst we should make the most of the season, it is important to ensure that we keep ourselves and loved ones safe from the more damaging effects of the summer sun. Prolonged exposure to the sun can result in a sunburn, which not only hurts and looks unsightly but can also increase your risk of skin cancer. Here are some of my tips on how to keep yourself protected.

The first thing that you should do when preparing for summer is take stock of what sunscreen you currently own. Many brands will feature expiration dates, so check these and stick to them – old bottles should be thrown out as they may no longer be effective. If you’re not sure about the dates, try them out on the back of your hand: if they have separated or smell ‘off’, then get rid of them. It is better to be safe than sorry!

Skin Cancer Prevention-sunscreen

Use at least SPF 30 that is water resistant for 40minutes total protection. SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays.

Now it’s time to stock up!  Before you invest in new sun lotion, though, it’s important to consider what it is that you need from your sun protection. Those with sensitive skin will want to use simple sunscreen without added fragrance. Some brands, such as Neutrogena and Blue Lizard are recommended by dermatologists for being effective and gentle on the skin. Those who are active, particularly children, will be better suited to ‘sports’ sunblock, which will be water resistant. Water resistant sunblock can provide protection in the water or during sweaty activities for 40-80 minutes. However, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as a truly waterproof sunblock: you must always reapply after being in the water.

When putting on your sunblock, the most effective way is to slather yourself before you put on your outfit or swimsuit. This is because you are less likely to miss spots and you will be able to cover spots which may become exposed as your clothing moves around. Most dermatologists recommend using approximately a shot glass full of sunscreen each time you apply. This may sound like a lot, but you will be surprised by how quickly your skin absorbs the lotion and it will encourage you to cover yourself entirely, including the often-missed areas, such as the undersides of your arms, backs of your legs and tops of your feet. Those who are concerned with ageing should take special care with their hands, chest, neck and face. For those who don’t like the taste of sunblock: invest in a lip balm with SPF.

Skin Cancer Prevention-5SIf you are on any medication, you should check with your pharmacist to find out whether this may affect your photosensitivity.  Many commonly prescribed and over the counter medications can cause either a photo-toxic or a photo-allergic reaction. Photo-toxic reactions are far more common and will look like sunburn: there is redness, itching, burning and stinging in the areas of the skin that were exposed to the sun. The reaction occurs quickly (within 24 hours of sun exposure) and usually clears once the drug has been stopped and most often does not occur again with further exposure to the sun. Photo-allergic reactions can take a little longer to develop; sometimes one or two days after sun exposure. There may be a rash that resembles eczema that extends to areas beyond what was exposed to the sun. Symptoms include itching, redness, swelling, blisters (in severe cases) and hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin). This is considered to be an allergic reaction and symptoms will recur with increasing severity on subsequent exposures to the drug and sun.

Drugs that can cause photo-toxic reactions include antibiotics (tetracycline, ciprofloxacin), antihistamines (Benadryl), heart medications (nifedipine, amiodarone), diuretics (hydrochlorothiazide, furosemide), diabetic medicines (glyburide), anti-inflammatories (ibuprofen, naproxen), acne medications (isotretinoin) and antidepressants (imipramine). Photo-allergic drugs include sunscreens (PABA and oxybenzone), salicylates (aspirin), anti-inflammatories (celecoxib) oral contraceptives and topical cancer chemotherapy drugs (Efudix). If you have any questions about your medication, please ask a pharmacist.

Of course, sunblock is not the only way to protect yourself from UV rays. You can wear light layers, such as a wrap or a long skirt. Where possible, you should avoid the strongest rays of sun, usually between 10am and 4pm. When you can’t avoid being outside in direct sunshine, make sure to wear a hat, which will shade the sensitive skin on your face and protect your scalp, which can be otherwise difficult to protect.

Lastly, remember that while it’s important to keep yourself safe from the sun’s rays, you should also remember to have fun!

Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.