Beating back the summer heat with the right sun protection

Besides sunscreens, protective clothing such as hats, neck gaiters, long sleeve shirts and sunglasses are important for ultraviolet protection. (Submitted Photo/Courtesy of Hobie Cat )

If you have an area of skin with no protection from the sun, you can gauge how many minutes it takes to burn or get a pink coloration.
By JOHN K. FLORES Outdoor Columnist

Beating back the summer heat with the right sun protection
Ah, solstice — the longest day of the year and first day of summer. The past several weeks have seen ambient temperatures ramping up quite a bit. Moreover, it won’t be until the latter part of September before locally we’ll see much reprieve.
So, when it comes to protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, are you doing the right things to cover up this summer? All too often outdoor enthusiasts push the physical envelope of their pursuits, be it jet skiing, fishing, hiking or even bird watching, ignoring their exposed flesh, ultimately suffering from a nasty burn.
In short, high levels of UV radiation can be hazardous to your health. With so many products on the market today, you almost have to have a PhD in dermaacronymology.
OK, I made that degree up, but with so many acronyms associated with various skin protection products, there’s no shame in being a little confused.
Essentially, most sunscreens today contain both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) protective chemicals but numerically range from a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 10 all the way up to 50. With such wide-ranging numbers, why not simply pay the extra and get the highest?
All humans and mammals carry in various degrees or levels skin and hair pigmentation known as melanin. In other words, some people are fair complexioned and some are dark. A sunscreen with an SPF of 50 may not be necessary for darker complexioned people, where it becomes overkill. And a less costly lower SPF may be sufficient.
In speaking with our family physician, Dr. Robert Blereau, about proper SPF application, he pointed out it can be measured by how long it takes an individual to sunburn.
“If you have an area of skin with no protection from the sun, you can gauge how many minutes it takes to burn or get a pink coloration,” said Blereau, who began practicing medicine in 1961.
Moreover, he’s seen untold numbers of patients during the course of his career with skin cancers as a result of long-term exposure to the sun along the Louisiana Gulf Coast.
Though most of the cancers he treated were benign forms of Basal Cell Carcinomas, or BCC, Blereau continued, saying, “The SPF for sunscreens is based on how many more minutes it takes to burn when the sunscreen is applied. With proper application, when an individual uses a product rated as SPF 15, it will, generally speaking, take them 15 times longer to get the pink coloration of sunburn compared to not having anything on the skin. This is in the neighborhood of 93 percent protection. SPF 30s and 50s are said to have 97 or 98 percent protection or effectiveness, so there is not a whole lot of difference, where an SPF of 15 to 30 is probably adequate for most people.”
According to Blereau, the most common mistake he sees is not putting enough sunscreen agent on exposed skin. Most sunscreen product manufacturers claim individuals use 25 to 50 percent less than the required amount needed for protection from UV rays.
The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests that as a rule of thumb, one ounce, or the equivalent of the amount that can be placed in a shot glass, should be applied to exposed skin initially during an outing at the beach.
Another common mistake is reapplication. Blereau pointed out sunscreens don’t last all day, where many people apply it once in the morning thinking it’s sufficient. And though some products may say waterproof or water resistant, after long periods of swimming, much of the chemical agent is gone.
Statistics indicate that there are an estimated 2.8 million cases of BCC diagnosed annually in the United States. Additionally, it is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. And one out of every three new cancers is skin cancer, with BCC being the vast majority.
Blereau said, “People definitely need sunscreens to protect against aging of the skin and production of wrinkles and a shriveled up look, especially to the face but any exposed area of skin. Too much sun can lead to cancers. They have some relatively benign cancers like Basal Cell Carcinoma and they have some very malignant cancers such as melanoma.”
Sunscreens should not be applied to children under the age of six months. Chemical agents in sunscreens are too harsh for their tender skin. And the worse time to be out in direct sunlight is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sun protection shouldn’t be limited to sunscreens only. Clothing, such as hats, long sleeve shirts, neck gaiters and pants, also should be considered.
Sportswear for skiers, hikers, kayakers and fishermen now is made with the objective of achieving the highest ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF.
Blereau said, “Whether you work or play outside, you want to do all you can to protect yourself from UV rays and prevent the possibility of skin cancers developing. Using sunscreens, sunglasses, and sunscreen-type clothing are ways you can protect yourself. That and a big wide-brim hat.”
If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact John K. Flores at 985- 395-5586 or or at

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