Ask the Expert: Protect your skin on spring break

Whether you're gardening or vacationing over spring break, the sun isn't just a great source of vitamin D and joy; it can also damage your skin.

Inside IU asked an expert, IU Health Center nurse and IUPUI graduate Marcey Tidwell, for tips to protect your skin from sunburn, wrinkles and skin cancer.

"Nobody's going to be scared at 18 about the notion of skin cancer," Tidwell said. "Think about future you."

Nurse Marcey Tidwell.View print quality image
Nurse Marcey Tidwell. Photo provided by Marcey Tidwell

Tanning

Tidwell said that no form of tanning bed is safe because they produce ultraviolet A and B rays. UVA rays cause aging and plunge deep into the skin. UVB rays cause burning, or for those without fair skin, a dark tan that is still considered skin damage.

"If you're wearing sunscreen, cool. Be out in the sun," Tidwell said. "Wear a floppy hat and regular application of sunscreen, and by that, I mean something that's every two hours, more often if you're in the water."

Tidwell said to apply sunscreen immediately after leaving the pool.

Sunscreen guidelines

Tidwell recommends wearing sun protection factor 30 as a baseline. She said there is little difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50.

"SPF 30 is going to get you about 97 percent coverage regularly applied," Tidwell said. "SPF 50 is going to give about 98 percent."

People tend to forget to cover certain areas of their body with sunscreen, Tidwell said. Behind your ears and neck need protection, too.

Even your eyes require protection from sunglasses to prevent ocular melanoma and cataracts. Tidwell recommends buying sunglasses with UV 400 protection.

"If you're wearing sunglasses that offer no UV protection, it's going to make (the lenses) darker," Tidwell said. "Your pupils are going to open up and will let more of those potential damaging sun rays into your eye."

Tidwell said there is a common misconception that a base tan will protect somebody from skin damage or a burn. In fact, any change in your skin color means the body is releasing melanin in response to damage.

"While technically a base tan might keep you from getting more burnt, you had to damage yourself in order to prevent further damage from the sun, which makes no sense," she said.

Skin cancer

"Skin cancers by a country mile are the number one most diagnosed cancer in this country," Tidwell said.

She said to look for asymmetric moles with irregular borders that have a different color than the rest of your freckles and moles or are larger than a pencil eraser. Visit a doctor if an unusual spot is found or if a mole is changing.

To prevent skin cancer, avoid sun exposure or wear sun protection at all times. Tidwell said that various skin care products even have a certain level of SPF in them to provide an extra boost.

If people are concerned about not getting enough natural vitamin D from the sun, Tidwell said to look for foods with high vitamin D such as orange juice or cheese and take supplements.

Everyday skin care

Tidwell said the most important tip for healthy skin is to drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep. A person should drink half their weight in ounces each day. For example, if a person weighs 150 pounds, they should drink 75 ounces a day.

"Hydration moisturizes us from the inside," Tidwell said.

It's also essential to moisturize on the outside, she said. Moisturizing is more helpful in the winter, especially on hands and feet -- the areas of the body that take the most abuse.

When exfoliating, Tidwell advised not to overuse a product.

"Enough is as good as a feast," Tidwell said.

Overall, Tidwell suggests taking care of your diet, water intake, stress management and sleeping habits to improve the skin or keep it from aging as quickly.

"When in doubt, weird skin stuff that's new to you should be addressed by a health care provider rather than searching rashes on the internet," Tidwell said.