Drat, you found (another) brown spot on your face last night. Some of the spots are caused by sun damage; others are due to genetics. For some women, hormones in birth control pills and pregnancy also can play a role.
You can lighten the areas with creams containing sunscreen, hydroquinone, kojic acid, alpha-arbutin, licorice extract or vitamin C, said dermatologist Neel Patel, MD. "Retinol and chemical peels with exfoliants such as glycolic or salicyclic acid also can help, but be sure to follow directions exactly. Laser and light procedures are another option. Remember, these treatments only work with continued sun protection."
Staying out of the sun is key to avoiding more hyperpigmentation. In sunstruck Arizona, that's admittedly tough to do.
Your best protection is sunscreen, which also can lower your risk of skin cancer. "Sunscreen's crucial whether it's sunny or cloudy," Dr. Patel said. He recommends that you:
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. Broad spectrum means it protects against two kinds of ultraviolet radiation — UVA and UVB.
- Remember that UVA and UVB damage your skin and boost your risk of skin cancer and photoaging — premature aging of the skin due to repeated exposure to ultraviolet radiation. "Sunscreens differ in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB, so read the labels. Products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide offer great broad protection with simple ingredients" Dr. Patel said.
Chemical sunscreens, which work by absorbing the sun's rays vs. deflecting or blocking them, are effective too, he said. "This type of sunscreen binds to the skin well, and can be more cosmetically elegant."
- Be happy that many of the newer sunscreen formulas aren't as sticky as the ones your mother slathered you with when you were a kid.
- Remember that sunscreens lose effectiveness over time. Check the expiration date and don't leave them in a hot car.
- Use a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher if you're going to be in the water or outside for a while.
- Apply two tablespoons — a shot glass full — of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before you go outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming, or if you're sweating a lot.
- Know that if you're blond or have red hair, your eyes are blue or green and/or you have freckles, you're at a higher risk of skin cancer. However, all skin types are at risk of skin cancer, and you should use sunscreen daily to keep your skin beautiful.
- Head for the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun is at its fiercest and the UV index the highest.
- Be aware that you can damage your skin through UVA radiation beaming through your car windows.
- Stay away from tanning beds. There's good evidence that UVA rays emitted by tanning beds increase the risk for melanoma. There is no such thing as a safe tan.
- Wear a hat. You can get sun damage on your scalp even if you have hair.
Get more information and enjoy a variety of activities at the Block Out Cancer Skin Screening event from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, May 21, at the Virginia G. Piper Cancer Center, 10460 N. 92nd St., Scottsdale, AZ 85258.