Summer has officially begun, which means warmer days and more time outside. While enjoying the sunshine can be one of the most fun parts of summer, increased exposure to the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays also comes with risks.
Sun protection is key, which may mean changing or adding extra steps to your skin care routine during the summer months.
Dr. Sandra Lee, board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon also known as Dr. Pimple Popper, joined TODAY to separate some summer skin care facts and myths.
Myth: The sun is always stronger on hotter days
While the sun is generally stronger in the summer when the days are warmer, the intensity of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun varies based on a number of factors.
The most important thing to look at is UV index, Lee said on TODAY.
The UV index measures the intensity of UV radiation from the sun on a scale from 0 to 11, with 0 indicating no sunlight (at night, for example), and 11+ indicating extreme UV radiation (you can burn in less than 10 minutes), according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.
“If it’s high, that’s when you have the most risk of damage (to your skin) from the sun. ... Anything above 5 is concerning,” says Lee.
While it’s important to wear sunscreen every day regardless of the UV index, you may need extra protection (for example, higher SPF or more frequent reapplications) on days when it's higher, TODAY.com previously reported.
The UV index is not a measure of heat, and a higher UV index does not necessarily mean it's hotter outside. For example, the UV index can be higher on a 70-degree sunny day than it is on a 100-degree sunny day, depending on the time of year, time of day, location, altitude and other factors that influence UV levels.
Likewise, the UV index can be still be high on overcast or cloudy days. "Sometimes when its super cloudy, you can get less UV radiation penetrating, but even if (the clouds) are patchy, a lot of sun can reflect off of that," says Lee.
Simply put, you can't rely on the temperature outside or looking at the sky to determine how strong the sun will be that day. Always check the UV index before going outside, says Lee. It's available on most weather apps and the Environmental Protection Agency's website.
Myth: Sun exposure can clear up your pimples
You might've heard that spending time in the sunshine can help clear up your skin. However, Lee says this is a myth that can actually result in long-term skin damage.
"The sun can temporarily improve your acne but not in the long run because you'll get browns spots, and the sun will darken these," says Lee.
Sun exposure and heat can also cause the skin to produce more oil, says Lee, which may make blemishes or acne worse. You also run the risk getting a face sunburn, especially if you're using acne products that make the skin more sensitive to sun.
It is true that moderate sunlight can help the body produce vitamin D, which can support your immune system and improve your mood, TODAY.com previously reported.
But any unprotected UV exposure can damage the skin, causing signs of premature aging, like discoloration and wrinkles, and increase the risk of skin cancer — which is why sunscreen is a must. Everyone can benefit from wearing facial sunscreen daily, and always opt for products with at least SPF 30 or higher.
Fact: You should avoid applying perfume before going in the sun
If you're thinking of spritzing your neck and chest with perfume or cologne before spending time in the sun, think again, says Lee.
"If you go out in the sun, it can cause a rash and blistering in some people," says Lee, referencing a condition called photodermatitis. This occurs when certain allergens or chemicals on the skin are activated by UV rays (also called a phototoxic reaction), triggering a severe sunburn, eczema-like reaction (dermatitis), or hives, according to Mount Sinai.
Many perfumes and colognes are made with bergamot oil, which contains chemicals called furocoumarins, which can trigger a skin reaction in the sun — this is called "Berloque photodermatitis," says Lee. These are also found in citrus fruits — if you've heard of a "margarita sunburn," this is a similar skin reaction from furocoumarins in limes activated by the sun, per the Cleveland Clinic.
So if you plan to spend time outside in the sun, don't liberally spray your neck and chest with perfume beforehand, says Lee. Instead, try to apply perfume in areas that won't get as much sun and always use sunscreen on any exposed skin, no matter what.
Fact: The higher the SPF, the longer the sunscreen will protect you
"Technically the higher the SPF is supposed to mean how much longer you can be out in the sun," says Lee. So SPF 100 would protect you for more minutes than SPF 50. However, higher SPFs also give people a "false sense of security," says Lee.
"People think if it's SPF 100 that they can stay out for (many more) hours, but it will rub off or you'll sweat it off," says Lee. So lathering on a high SPF sunscreen once in the morning or before leaving the house won't insure you for a full day out in the sun — you'll want to bring that bottle with you.
Regardless of the SPF, it's very important to reapply your sunscreen at least every two hours (and after swimming), says Lee, especially if you're spending prolonged time in the sun. If you know you'll sweat a lot or go in the water, consider using a water- or sweat-resistant SPF product.
Myth: SPF refers to all UVA and UVB protection
"Technically, SPF only really refers to UVB protection, but both UVB and UVA rays are dangerous," says Lee. Ultraviolet B rays have a shorter wavelength and are associated with sunburns, whereas ultraviolet A rays have a longer wavelength and are associated with skin aging, per the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Both types of rays can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer, which is why it's important to protect against them.
"You really want to look at broad-spectrum protection, (which) means it is blocking UVB and UVA rays," says Lee.