It's peak summer season in the United States, which means more people are spending time outside, enjoying the sunshine and going on vacation. But some of the best parts of summer can also present unique health risks — especially the sun and outdoor elements.
A dermatologist shares some of the top mistakes people make on vacation that can harm their skin and how to avoid them.
Using sunscreen with SPF less than 30
It's crucial to protect the skin from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays every time you go outside, and especially when you're spending time in the sun.
“We grade sunscreens based on the thickness of application, and most of us aren’t applying enough,” Henry noted. “We’re already inadequate, so less than 30 is not OK,” she added.
Everyone, regardless of skin tone, can benefit from wearing sunscreen daily. In addition to choosing a sunscreen with at least SPF 30, you should look for products that are broad-spectrum, which protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
Ignoring medication labels
"Many medications can actually sensitize you to the sun," said Henry. This includes common medications to treat acne, such as the antibiotic doxycycline and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen.
The sun-sensitizing effects of these medications can make you more prone to sun damage and increase the risk of severe sunburns, rashes and blisters, Henry explained.
A common mistake people make is failing to check if any of their medications can increase sensitivity to the sun before going on vacation and spending time outdoors.
It's important to always read the labels on medications and understand the potential side effects, and consult your dermatologist if you're ever concerned or have questions.
Walking barefoot outside
"It's really freeing to walk barefoot in the summer months — people love it — but it comes with risks," Henry explained.
"I see massive burns from walking on sidewalks on hot pavement, fungal infections, bacterial infections and sunburns (on the feet)," said Henry.
Always wear shoes when you go outside and don't forget to apply sunscreen to the feet. It's also important to wear shoes or sandals with traction when you're at the pool so you don't slip, she noted.
Forgetting to rinse off after the pool
"Chlorine is a great disinfectant, but it's also great at drying your skin, causing inflammation and giving you brittle hair," Henry said.
Anytime you’re in a chlorinated swimming pool or hot tub, it’s important to shower or even just rinse off with fresh, clean water afterward.
Another tip to protect the hair and skin from the harsh effects of chlorine is to apply a small amount of coconut oil and let it absorb before going into the pool. "It’s going to protect you from bonding to that chlorine," Henry said.
Always rinse off before you go into pools, as well, Henry noted, which helps remove dirt, sweat, cosmetics and anything else lingering on the skin so it doesn't come into the water with you.
Ignoring skin growths
Excess sun exposure can cause new freckles, new moles and new skin growths, according to Henry.
"There are lots of things online that you can get to remove it at home, but do not do it. You could delay the diagnosis of a skin cancer," Henry emphasized.
It’s always important to get familiar with your skin so you can tell when things change. “We’re looking for moles that are asymmetric, have an uneven border, multiple colors or growing in diameter (or the ABCDEs of melanoma)," Henry said.
If you notice any of these, always consult your dermatologist or go in for a skin check.