By Erin Wronka – WUFT contributor
With students across the state enjoying spring break, Florida has begun to offer what could be its most famous yet most dangerous weather.
Spending a couple hours by the pool or at Lake Wauburg may have more of an effect on skin than people think if proper sun protection is not practiced, experts say.
Lindsey Johnson, a physician’s assistant at Gainesville Dermatology and Aesthetics Center, 120 NW 76th Drive, Gainesville, said students should take steps to properly guard their skin from the sun.
One of the best things a person can do is to wear sunscreen when heading anywhere outdoors, whether it be walking around campus or going to the pool, Johnson said, noting the importance of a sunscreen’s sun protection factor.
“SPF 15 really doesn’t protect you at all,” Johnson said. “You want to wear at least an SPF of … 30 to 45.”
Johnson said sunscreens advertised as anything over SPF 45 don’t necessarily offer more protection. Research has shown that sunscreens labeled with high SPFs, such as 80 or 100, have about the same effects on skin as an SPF of 45, she said.
Besides applying sunscreen, Johnson said, there are other simple ways to protect skin if people know they’ll be out in the sun, including wearing hats to protect the scalp and face or wearing UV shirts made with SPF in their material.
Something often forgotten is the importance of wearing sunglasses, she said. People should have them on anytime they’re outdoors, as UV rays can cause severe damage to eyes and skin, Johnson said.
According to the American Skin Association, the sun exposes people to two types of invisible ultraviolet light called UVB and UVA rays.
UVB rays can affect the skin’s process of repairing itself and help to cause skin marks like freckles, while UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin, increasing the chances of sagging and wrinkles in the skin, according to the report.
Together, UVA and UVB rays increase the risk of skin cancer, according to the report.
Johnson also brought up the practice of intentional tanning.
“I know we all want to be tan,” Johnson said. “But I have tons of patients I see that come to me that pay thousands and thousands of dollars to reverse sun damage because they have leathery skin and sun spots.”
While Johnson has seen the effects of tanning firsthand, she said she knows many people still do it. Just like people are aware of the dangers of smoking, people are aware of potential sun damage and tan anyway, she said.
Johnson compared lying in a tanning bed to pulling the sun closer to one’s skin. The closer the sun is, the more damage it will do to skin in a shorter period of time, she said.
Tara Stephens, a sales clerk at Hot Spot Tanning Center, located at 3265 SW 34th St., Gainesville, acknowledged the warnings the tanning salon gives its customers.
There are signs up throughout the store that refer to the dangers and safety precautions of tanning, Stephens said. There’s also certain protocol for new customers, she added.
“When someone comes in and they’re new, we tell them to go half the time so they don’t burn,” Stephens said. “We also recommend using lotion to moisturize your skin so you don’t get dry patchiness.”
If people are going to tan outside, they should apply sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and lie out for short periods of time, Johnson said.
Emily Carroll, a 21-year-old finance major at the University of Florida, said she follows these suggestions when outside.
“As a former lifeguard, I know when it’s time to get out of the sun,” she said.
Carroll said she always uses sunscreen that is SPF 50 and still manages to get some color.
Johnson said regardless of whether a person prefers the tanning bed or lying in the sun, the dangers of UV rays and their contribution to skin cancer apply to everybody.
“It can happen to anyone,” Johnson said. “No one is invincible from skin cancer.”