Staving off the harmful effects of the summertime Southern Nevada sun?
Just part of the daily routine for lifeguards at the Carlos L. Martinez and Darrio J. Hall Family Pool at Gary Reese Freedom Park.
The conscientious use of sunscreen? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Staying in the shade? Check.
The Las Vegas outdoor pool’s staff pretty much represents a live-action “do” list of how to survive summer in the valley.
As for the rest of us? Well, it’s possible that we’re not quite as meticulous as we should be about doing what we can now to keep sun-related problems — skin cancer and premature aging of the skin among them — from arriving a few years down the road.
Sun protection is a good goal for people of any age. However, Dr. Lisa Rosenberg, an internal medicine physician and geriatrician with Touro University Nevada College of Osteopathic Medicine, says people on either end of the age spectrum are most susceptible to experiencing sun-related skin damage.
Older people have thinner skin, she says, and although children’s skin tends to be more delicate than adults’, kids also are more apt to spend longer periods in the sun without proper protection.
The most significant risk of excessive sun exposure is skin cancer. It’s probably no surprise that “I see more skin cancer here than anyplace I’ve ever been,” says Dr. Linda Johnson, an internal medicine specialist with Southwest Medical Associates.
Johnson has noticed that skin cancers here seem to occur most often on the face, the top of the head, the ears, the forearms and the chest.
And, as if cancer isn’t motivation enough to protect your skin, excessive exposure to sunlight also can cause skin to age prematurely.
“We had always suspected that sun exposure accelerates skin aging,” Rosenberg says. However, a study from Australia published last month offers what researchers called the strongest evidence yet that the daily use of sunscreen can help to forestall skin aging. In the study, the skin of people who used sunscreen each day showed 24 percent less aging — as determined by wrinkling and other signs — than the skin of people who didn’t.
“The effects of the sun on the skin are lifelong and progressive,” Rosenberg adds. “Older skin is more prone to sun damage because the self-correcting mechanisms in our cells wane with age.”
However, it’s never too late, she says, and older people who begin a daily sunscreen regimen may be able to at least slow the progression of sun-related skin aging.
Sunlight’s damaging effects come primarily from ultraviolet rays. Ultraviolet B, or UVB, rays cause sunburn and are associated with skin cancer, says Dr. Douglas Thomas, a Las Vegas dermatologist, while ultraviolet A, or UVA, rays “tend not to cause sunburn, but tend to cause wrinkling of the skin — photoaging — and they also tend to cause skin cancer.”
Sunscreens are designed to block UV rays. Consumers should choose a “broad spectrum” sunscreen that offers protection from both UVA and UVB rays. (Under federal labeling laws that took effect last year, only sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB can call themselves “broad spectrum.”)
A consumer then should look at a sunscreen’s SPF, or sun protection factor, which indicates how much of the sun’s harmful rays it blocks. An SPF 15 sunscreen will block 93 percent of the sun’s harmful rays, while an SPF 30 will block 97 percent, Thomas says.
SPF 15 often is regarded as the minimum protection consumers should choose. However, Thomas says, “the American Academy of Dermatology a couple of years ago changed its recommendation from 15 to 30 as the minimal requirement.”
A sunscreen should be applied 15 minutes before going outside. Then, Thomas says, a good rule of thumb is to reapply it every two hours and more often if swimming, sweating or performing other physical activities.
The American Academy of Dermatology also recommends using a water resistant sunscreen. Under new labeling regulations, sunscreens no longer may claim to be “waterproof” or “sweatproof,” and sunscreens that meet standards for water resistance are rated to provide protection while swimming or sweating for either 40 or 80 minutes.
Sunscreen should be used daily in a desert locale such as Las Vegas. Thomas says some moisturizers and makeup products are rated for SPF, which can make it easier to incorporate sun protection into a daily routine.
Sunscreens come in a variety of forms, including sprays and lotions. The key thing, doctors agree, is to find one you like and then to use it daily.
Clothing — hats and long-sleeved shirts, for example — also can serve as weapons in Southern Nevadans’ sun protection arsenal. Some manufacturers even make SPF-rated clothing.
Look for light, tighter-weave fabrics. Johnson recommends wearing hats with wide brims instead of caps, because they offer greater ear and neck protection.
But, Rosenberg adds, “I wouldn’t consider a hat a replacement for a sunscreen. It’s better than nothing but, really, the more protection the better.”
Some antibiotics “can make people more sensitive to sun exposure,” Rosenberg says. “So if you’re starting an antibiotic, you need to ask if it will cause that. There are also other medications that can cause photosensitivity.”
Don’t forget to protect your eyes from the sun, too. There is “good evidence” that sun exposure can cause eyelid malignancies, and the big factor for eyelid tumors appears to be UV radiation, says Dr. Dan Eisenberg, an ophthalmologist with Shepherd Eye Center.
“People don’t realize you can get little tumors and cancer of the eyelid, and we do see them,” Eisenberg says.
Dr. Steven Leibowitz, an ophthalmologist with Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and a specialist in ophthalmic plastic and reconstructive surgery, says that “one of the biggest things I do besides cosmetic (surgery) is reconstruction of the eyelids because of skin cancers.”
Exposure to ultraviolet rays also can cause pinguecula and pterygium, benign growths on the white part of the eye and the cornea that must be removed surgically. Both, Leibowitz says, are “100 percent related to sun exposure.”
Although cataracts primarily are a function of aging, there’s “no question that sun exposure contributes to cataracts,” Leibowitz says.
“I think it’s reasonable to encourage sunglass wear just as we encourage sunscreen use,” Eisenberg says.
Choose sunglasses with lenses large enough to cover the eye and which offer both UVA and UVB protection. Polarized lenses can help to reduce glare, and opt for shatterproof lenses.
That said, Leibowitz adds, “there doesn’t seem to be any standardization (of testing and labeling) at all. When they’ve done studies on this, they’ve found some very expensive sunglasses that (offer) very little UV protection and some cheap ones that are very good.”
Finally, after making it sound as though the safest way to make it through summer is by wearing a hazmat suit until Labor Day, here’s a surprising thought: It may not be bad to soak in a little bit of sun each day.
Exposure to sunlight elevates the mood and helps the body create vitamin D, Rosenberg says. “Sunshine is a really important way to get vitamin D, but on the other hand we obviously need to protect ourselves from some risks.”
So, Rosenberg says, “I think a little bit of sun exposure every day — like 10 minutes — is probably fine.”
And, she says, do it very early in the day “when the sun’s rays are less direct.”
Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0280.