Sun safety: An important part of enjoying the outdoors


Dr. Jenny Sobera of Village Dermatology

Dr. Jenny Sobera of Village Dermatology

Spring is in full swing, and all of us tend to spend more time outdoors enjoying the weather.  Everyone knows that sun safety is important, but we don’t always take care of ourselves like we should.   We sat down with board-certified Dermatologist Dr. Jenny Sobera of Village Dermatology and discussed all things related to our skin and the sun.

What precautions should people take with the sun these days?
The most important thing is avoiding sun.  This is even more important than sunscreen because sunscreen is not perfect. SPF is measured based on a thick application of the product.  It is a much thicker application of sunscreen than what people actually use.  A full shot glass of sunscreen should be used for your body and you should reapply every 90 minutes if you are sweating or in the water.  This is really hard with kids because they are in the water so much.

What times of day are the most dangerous?
The worst times are from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.  If you like to get out and run or walk then try to do it before or after this time.

Could you tell us a little more about SPF and its importance?
SPF only measures UVB protection or coverage, but UVA is also extremely important because that contributes to aging and skin cancers.  You really need both UVA and UVB protection.   There is nothing FDA approved yet to measure UVA coverage.  So when your sunscreen says UVA and UVB coverage, that UVA component could be minimal.   What you want to look for is a product with zinc or titanium because they are physical blockers instead of just chemical blockers so they offer broad-spectrum coverage against UVA and UVB.

Products with the chemical blocker, Mexoryl are also a good UVA protector.
If you have sensitive or allergic skin and prefer a chemical-free sunscreen,  you will  want to use products that have zinc and titanium for their protection.  Another benefit of these products is that they can be safely used on the delicate skin of newborns.  Blue Lizard Sensitive is an example of this type of product available in drugstores.  We also carry several effective medical-grade physical sun-blocks in our boutique that have been very popular: TIZO SPF 40, Skinceuticals New Sheer Physical 50 and Solar Protection SPF 58.

How great are the risks of the sun?
The risks are there every day from just being outdoors but especially in summer months when you are out all day.  But sitting by a window, driving your car, you are still getting sun. For people who don’t burn easily the damage is done over time.  So they don’t realize that it is happening.  Fair-skinned people see the effects immediately.  Some people aren’t as careful because they don’t burn easily but you will see skin cancer and aging over time.  Kids can have enough sun damage by age seven or eight to get a skin cancer.

Using a body lotion with an SPF everyday along with a facial moisturizer containing sunscreen are important.

Should young children’s skin be treated differently than adults?
You need to be more careful with irritations and allergies from sunscreens.  Children are really active and need more frequent application.  Everyone needs at least an SPF of 30, even playing baseball and softball in the backyard or on the playground at school.

Infants less than 6 months of age need to avoid chemical sunscreens, but there are safe products available if little ones must  be out there.

Everybody should use sunglasses, even children!  Anyone can get sun damage from the sun.

One great product for children is the Colorsecience brushes that contain mineral powder that you can brush all over their eyes and faces. It doesn’t sting or burn and is waterproof.  We carry it at our office.  It is recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation.

When examining your own skin, what should you look for that would be a red flag?
New or changing brown or black moles and non-healing sores.  However, everyone really needs professional screening.  Insurance companies for the most part cover a dermatology visit less the copay.  Many of the skin cancers I have found were not noticeable to the patient.  If you are ever in doubt you should come in.

Besides skin cancer, what other negative effects does the sun have on your skin?
Aging is the main one.  Sun damage causes the skin to thin; it develops unwanted red and brown pigmentation, wrinkling and decreases the elasticity of the skin.

What treatments are available today to reverse sun damage?
Start with good skincare products such as tretinoin.  If you can only have one product this is it.  It helps reverse and prevent sun damage and skin cancers, and is available under many different brand names.  Cosmetically, it helps diminish fine lines and wrinkles.  Medically, it  reduces  your chance of developing skin cancers.

Glycolic acid products are also great at reducing the signs of aging.   Antioxidants such as vitamin C are a good secondary defense with sunscreen because they help the body fight against DNA damage caused by UV rays and other environmental factors.

As for procedures, light and laser treatments are effective with very little down time.  There is maintenance involved to maintain these results, but that is true with any cosmetic procedure.

Light treatments such as IPL  (intense pulse light) or photo facials remove unwanted red and brown spots.  It cleans up sun damage and even outs skin tones.  Most patients require two to four treatments to get desired results.

What concerns should people over 60 have about the sun or should do differently?
Everyone 30 and older should have a skin screening each year.  The older you get, the more likely you are to have a skin cancer.  A lot of older people think it is too late for them to wear sunscreen, but it is not.

Vitamin D deficiency is a common to serious health issue.  I offer a simple blood test to determine if that is an issue for the patient.  There are much healthier ways to get vitamin D than the sun, but I do want to make sure no one is deficient.

What about teenagers and young adults?  Any advice for them?
Do not ever get in a tanning bed for any reason.  So dangerous!  Once people start they love it, but it is so bad for your body. If you want that tan look without lying out, spray tans are great!   Sunless tanning creams or sunless towelettes are great too.  We carry tan towels that are like a wipe so they prevent streaking like the lotions. You just wipe it on and throw away.  They don’t have a strong smell either.

Dr. Jenny Sobera grew up in Mountain Brook. After completing her residency in dermatology and practicing in Fairhope, Ala., for 2 years, she and her family returned here where she practices in Mountain Brook Village.  You can visit her website at


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