What the Sun Does to Your Skin

Friday, July 25, 2014

beach summer beach umbrellas Exposure to the sun can damage skin over time. It's a good idea to use sunscreen and find some shade at the beach. (nito /

This week's Please Explain is all about how exposure to the sun affects our skin--from tanning to sunburn, from freckles to skin cancers. Dr. Jennifer Stein, of NYU Langone Medical Center's Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, talks about UV rays, sunscreen, and the cell damage that exposure to the sun causes over time.


Overexposure to the sun can damage our DNA. “When you have mutation in or damage to the DNA of a cell, eventually that can lead to a skin cancer,” Dr. Stein said. If you have more than five sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 you will have an 80 percent increase in the risk of developing melanoma. 

"There really isn't such a thing as a healthy tan," Dr. Stein said. Tanning is a sign that damage is still happening to your skin cells. If you get tan while wearing sunscreen, it means you're not wearing a high enough SPF or that you need to reapply more frequently.

Wear sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher.  A sunscreen’s SPF tells you how long you can stay out in the sun. If you’re wearing SPF 30, it means you can stay out 30 times longer with sunscreen than without. You should purchase sunscreen that is “board label, which protects against UVA and UVB. And be sure to use enough.

Avoid being in the sun in the middle of the day.  You’re going to get maximum exposure to the sun between 10 am and 4 pm. If you are out during this time of day, try to find a shady spot or pack an umbrella, and wear sunscreen.

Wearing protective clothing is very important.  “Now it’s easier to find fashionable sun shirts and rash guards,” Dr. Stein said. “The more clothes you wear, the less you have to worry about sunscreen.” Be sure to also wear a hat and sunglasses.

Treat a sunburn with whatever feels good. You want to moisturize you skin. Dr. Stein added that feeling feverish, cold, or confused are signs of a severe form of sunburn. If this happens, go see your doctor.

Tanning beds are not safe. "Go with your own glow," Dr. Stein said.

You're likely to get tan by the end of the summer, so don't worry about it too much. Just do what you can. “I never tell people they have to be a vampire,” Dr. Stein added. “You can go out and have a good time. You just want to do it in a way to protect yourself from the damage from the sun.”




Dr. Jennifer Stein

Comments [33]


@Whitney from Brooklyn
I don't think Leonard would know what to do with "holistic," nor would many of his listeners be inclined to hear that kind of wisdom. In general, NPR hosts and their subjects suffer from the kind of disease that is extremely difficult to cure: an attitude that subscribes totally to a materialistic view of the body, world and universe. "Holistic" already presupposes too much of an esoteric or new-agey sensibility for them (even Krista Tippett rarely goes there)… But it's nice you asked.

Jul. 26 2014 12:08 AM
Whitney from Brooklyn

This was a great segment but I would really like a response segment with a guest with a more holistic view on skin care. Please consider revisiting this topic.

Jul. 25 2014 02:18 PM
Nancy from NJ

I have major sun damage already including a number of "sun spots." Is there anything I can do to repair some of this damage?

Jul. 25 2014 01:58 PM
Mike from Riverdale

what about a uv protective umbrella instead of sunscreen for just walking around the city. Not a beachgoer.

Jul. 25 2014 01:58 PM
Will Crosby from Manhattan

Is there a good sunblock without zinc?

Jul. 25 2014 01:57 PM
Grant McClellan from Manhattan

Why does the aloe plant take away the burn feeling. It also works for a physical heat burn

Jul. 25 2014 01:57 PM

What are the little red dots all over my stomach?

Jul. 25 2014 01:56 PM
sandra from nyc

how effective is using an umbrella while walking in the sun?
in asian countries, umbrellas are common,but more for beauty and not protective against sun cancer.

Jul. 25 2014 01:55 PM

Most of what she says totally disempowers the listener, in so many ways... If you believe even a portion of these explanations, you're just another slave to "science."

Jul. 25 2014 01:53 PM
Linda Griggs from LES

What's the deal with people saying to eat watermelon to prevent sunburn.

I bought this stuff that I wash into my clothes that's supposed to put spf in them.
What do you think of that?

Jul. 25 2014 01:51 PM
Anonymous from Park Slope

Although the risk is low..what are the small plentiful moles usually found on African Americans? Back, Stomach, Face etc.

Jul. 25 2014 01:50 PM
David from UWS

Is a hat sufficient, or should you get ones with an SPF factor? Can you get sun damage on your scalp,. through the hair without a hat?

Jul. 25 2014 01:47 PM
Jen from Brooklyn

I apply a moisturizer with high SPF daily before leaving the house, but in the summer I get so sweaty, I that it is gone before I get outside! Any ideas about products that do not get sweated off? Thanks!

Jul. 25 2014 01:46 PM
Orla from NYC

How quickly does sunscreen expire, especially if it's stored in the heat of an un-airconditioned NY apartment?

Jul. 25 2014 01:46 PM
Josh Neretin from Brooklyn NY

in 2001 I had a serious melanoma removed, and a subsequent lynph node biopsy.

I have been checking myself a few times a year since then.

My question is, I never wear shorts or short sleeve shirts in the direct sun.
Will this type of complete cover up assist in avoiding future skin cancer?
Or should I buy the UV protective clothing (and if so, is that really any better)\

Thanks very much

Jul. 25 2014 01:46 PM
Paul from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn

What about constant daily sun exposure among lifeguards? Are they potentially doomed to a skin cancer condition later in life, even though their skin's melanin adapts over time?

Jul. 25 2014 01:42 PM

What are the effects of bronzers or other products like spray on tan services, on skin and health?

Jul. 25 2014 01:42 PM
Lulu from Pompton Plains NJ

I am fair and four months ago had a suspicious freckle removed from my arm leaving an indention scar. (The result of testing showed it was not malignant.) I am concerned now that the scar is so deep it is very vulnerable to the sun and could develop a melanoma or a darker, larger freckle. I have been wearing sunblock and band-aid to protect it. Am I thinking about this in the right way?

Thank you.

Jul. 25 2014 01:41 PM
Jon from NJ

My light-skinned daughter has started using a popular skin darkening product. What does the guest say about these products?

Jul. 25 2014 01:39 PM
carolanyc from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Please talk about the dangers of the active ingredients of most available forms of sunscreens, e.g. oxybenzone. The only safe sunscreens seem to be the mineral-based formulas, e.g. zinc oxide. Environmental Working Group has great info on this:

Jul. 25 2014 01:38 PM
Jon from NJ

My light-skinned daughter has started using a popular skin darkening product. What does the guest say about these products?

Jul. 25 2014 01:38 PM
Gerry from Hoboken from Hoboken, NJ

Why do antibiotics increase the chance for sunburn?

Jul. 25 2014 01:38 PM

Doesn't sun screen compromise the ability of the body to absorb vitamin D, which is important for preventing other cancers besides skin cancer?

Jul. 25 2014 01:37 PM
sara from new york

I have olive skin and low vitamin D, any suggestions?

Jul. 25 2014 01:36 PM
Sy from uws

PLEASE - vitamin D and Sun Burn: how to balance? when? etc.

Jul. 25 2014 01:36 PM
Ame' Branson from SANTA FE, NM

What about the in-office laser peels, laser resurfacing procedures, etc. that more or less destroy the upper layers of skin so new skin can grow?

Jul. 25 2014 01:35 PM
Ryan from Brooklyn

I have heard that using sunscreen blocks vitamin d3 from penetrating the skin, which is the version vitamin we need most

Jul. 25 2014 01:35 PM
Ashely from Long Branch

I read a few whole food blogs and I remember reading a post about this mom who used to burn very easily but ever since she started eating a whole food diet she doesn't seem to burn as easily. I was wondering if your guest could explain this.
Thank you!

Jul. 25 2014 01:35 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

My doctor told me to get some sun to increase my Vitamin D. How much time would I need to spend in the sun to get my MDR of Vitamin D? How much does sunscreen interfere with getting Vitamin D from the sun?

Jul. 25 2014 01:30 PM
Sabrina from Manhattan

Cosmetic brand sunscreen is much lighter than drugstore sunscreen even if they are the same SPF. Are they equally effective?

Jul. 25 2014 01:29 PM

Please comment on cold sores (oral); I've had them come up from nuts and bottled salad dressing, but I've heard that the excess of Vit. D from the increase of sun exposure can trigger them. Any recommendations besides avoiding the sun to suppress them, l-lysine, etc? Should one avoid a multi-vitamin (with D)when Vitamin D is so prevalent in summer?

Jul. 25 2014 01:29 PM
JFreely from NYC

Pls discuss: bridging the gap between getting some Vitamin D from the sun vs damaging the skin--isn't 10 minutes of sun with unprotected skin esential for getting vitamin D?

Jul. 25 2014 01:28 PM
Lori from Manhattan

Question: How can you follow the "re-apply every two hours rule" under makeup? As in, I put on a sunscreen/moisturizer and then makeup…how do I re-apply sunscreen, without re-applying makeup?
Thank you!

Jul. 25 2014 01:25 PM

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