What You Need to Know About Sun Protection

Top Doc dermatologist Jessica Fewkes on why everybody needs to be wearing a lot more sunscreen.

Not only is that so not enough sunscreen, but she should be wearing a hat, too. (Photo via iStockphoto.)

With summer just about here, you might be picturing yourself roasting on the shores somewhere exotic, cocktail in hand, palm trees overhead. To that image, add this: an umbrella, a hat, and definitely sunscreen. Because as Jessica Lynn Fewkes, one of our 2011 Top Docs and a dermatologist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, will tell you: Too much sunshine can mean irreversible skin damage, and everyone needs to pay a little more heed to sun protection.

What are the melanoma rates here in Mass.?
We know that melanoma rates are about equal in men and women. The two most important things about the rates are that the two areas where they are increasing the most are in men over the age of 50 or 60 and in young people.

What is the difference between the tanning one gets at a salon compared to one from the outdoors?
There’s a slight but real difference. Tanning outside pretty much comes from two kinds of ultraviolet. There’s UV A, and UV B. Tanning comes from both of them, but more from the B. In the tanning parlors, you get a much larger dose of UV A, which we now feel is probably a very important carcinogen also.

Massachusetts has not banned tanning salons for any age group, but does require that minors are accompanied by a parent or seek parental permission. What are your thoughts on that?
Well, I understand that the legislation and the government is being deceived by a very heavily funded tanning agency. This is a multi-billion dollar business and they don’t want it particularly curtailed. Unfortunately, though, we know that tanning booths are a real carcinogen. They can cause lethal disease in people and I think that young people may not have enough information or be adult enough to make those decisions which is why we curtail a whole lot of other things in young people.

Has the culture of tanning changed from where it was back in tanning’s heyday?
I think it’s changed a little bit. There is no question that people are more aware of it. The American Academy of Dermatology has a huge campaign which is pretty successful in trying to reach out to all levels, from school kids up to older adults, explaining to them how ultraviolet radiation can damage your skin, not only causing skin cancer but also causing photo-aging. And so I think there’s a lot more out there. On the other hand, there has been very little decrease in the actual appreciation of a tan.

How can you tell if you have a melanoma?
Well, the most important thing is if there’s a new “something” on your skin that you’ve never seen before and it doesn’t go away in a couple of months. It may ulcerate, it may bleed, it may be brown, it may be pink. But I think if there’s anything new and it doesn’t go away in a couple of months, you need to see a dermatologist.

What are the best types of sunscreens to use?
Basically a 30 or above. It has to be used every single day on your head and neck. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cloudy day. Unless you are sitting inside in a room that has no windows, you should use your sunscreen.