If Sly and the Family Stone were writing “Hot Fun in the Summer Time” now instead of back in 1969, chances are there might be a few extra verses about UV exposure, potential skin cancer and the importance of sunscreen.
Believe it or not, most of the sun-related issues we face as adults got their start long ago — when we all routinely got sunburns on the beach or at the pool, and actually used oil on our skin in pursuit of that perfect Coppertone tan.
“Most of our sun exposure, if we’re looking at the amount of ultraviolet light that our skin is exposed to, comes before we’re 18 years old,” said Dr. Ryan J. Matherne, a board certified dermatologist with offices in Thibodaux, Cut Off and Lutcher. “We’re outside a lot as kids. Most of the time kids are getting a lot of sun — but not a lot of sun protection.
“You don’t see a lot of kids running around with hats or long sleeves or anything like that.”
In the last 50 years, Matherne said society has become more conscious of the dangers presented by the sun — and more people are taking steps sooner to protect themselves.
“I stress to parents to be mindful of using sunscreen on their children. And we also practice sun avoidance in dermatology: Seek shade when you can,” he said. “Avoid direct sun exposure between 10 and 4 — that’s when the sun’s rays are most intense.”
But that’s also the better part of the day when fish might be biting. For summertime anglers especially, fishing not only exposes you to the sun beating down, but also rays bouncing off the water — a double whammy Matherne said you need to take steps to counter.
“When you’re out on the water, a lot of the ultraviolet rays are coming from below, reflected up by the water,” Matherne said. “Even when you’re docking your boat and you’re on a shell parking lot, the white shells or concrete will reflect UV rays onto your face, so you’re getting exposed from both above and below.
“If you’re out there fishing in the middle of the day, a Bimini top or a T-top really helps out. And sunglasses are important, too — protection against ocular melanoma is even a consideration.”
No matter your risk factors — whether you’re a redhead or dark-complected, Matherne said covering up with clothing and using sunscreen out on the water is key.
“Sun avoidance also extends to clothing. Something people should be mindful of is shirts with UPF — a protection factor that’s sewn in,” he said. “It’s all about having a shirt with a very tight weave, but something that’s cool and comfortable that you can wear.”
In addition to long sleeves and long pants, Matherne also recommends a good wide-brimmed hat. Baseball caps are popular, but leave your ears, neck and lots of your face exposed.
“You need a hat with a 3-inch brim all the way around,” he said. “And if anything is being reflected back on your face, you really need to put sunscreen on those areas.”
And even if you’re wearing long sleeves, long pants, a good hat and a neck gaiter, a good sunscreen in combination with covering up is key, he said. So as sunscreens go, is any number higher than SPF 30 just a marketing ploy?
“That’s true and untrue,” Matherne said. “To a certain extent, if you put on the sunscreen to the thickness the manufacturer says you should, then a 30 is probably sufficient. But most people don’t put the sunscreen on as thick as the manufacturer recommends.
“So by using a 30 and not putting as much of it on your skin as the manufacturer thinks you should, you’re really ending up with an SPF 15. So if you gravitate toward using a 70, you might actually be getting SPF 30 coverage. So that’s why we always err toward getting the highest SPF possible.”
To give you an idea of what the manufacturers recommend, consider Matherne’s advice for sunscreen at the beach, where more of your skin might be exposed to the sun.
“You need to reapply enough sunscreen so that one full-size bottle is enough for one person on the beach for one day,” he said.
Repeated sun exposure can predispose you to certain pre-cancerous and cancerous conditions, so Matherne said applying and reapplying sunscreen is crucial. You might even consider wearing gloves to protect your hands if you fish a lot, he said.
“Whenever somebody asks me what’s the best sunscreen to wear, I’ll say whatever one that you’ll actually wear. If you find one that you like, use that one. All the ones on the market have to go through the FDA process, so they’ve all been tested,” he said. “So find the one that’s most comfortable for your skin — but the most important thing is to wear it, and reapply it often.”
And if you do notice a suspicious mole — or anything else that you’re concerned about on your skin — Matherne recommended seeing a dermatologist to get it checked out.
“Any lesion that is symptomatic — if it itches, bleeds or is painful, or any lesion that changes or worries you for any reason — those are things you definitely need to check out for sure,” he said.
And remember — don’t let your guard down on a cloudy day.
“Summer is definitely when we have the most intense ultraviolet exposure,” Matherne said. “Even on a cloudy day some ultraviolet light will come through, specifically Ultraviolet A. UVA rays are the ones that cause wrinkling of skin, and can stimulate development of certain skin cancers.
“UVB rays are the ones that contribute to sunburn, along with pre-cancers and skin cancer.”