Save Your Skin From the Summer Sun

Which sunscreen to wear and what to avoid to stay safe in the sun

A couple wearing sunglasses enjoy the sunshine while protecting themselves against skin cancer.

Which sunscreen to wear and what to avoid to stay safe in the sun

San Diegans love the sunshine — maybe a little too much. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.


However, there are some steps we can take to enjoy the sun safely. “The basic thing is to avoid a sunburn, because we know that contributes to melanoma and other skin cancers,” says Hubert Greenway Jr., MD, chairman of Mohs and dermatologic surgery at Scripps Clinic.

Sunscreen smarts

Peruse the sunscreen section at any major retailer and you’ll see there are many to pick from. But which is the right one for you? Dr. Greenway says to make sure whichever one you pick is broad spectrum, protects against both UVA and UVB rays, and is at least SPF 30, which means it should be effective for 40 to 80 minutes before you’ll need to reapply. Choose a water-resistant formula, and keep in mind no sunscreens are truly waterproof. You’ll have to reapply more often if you’re sweating or go in and out of the water. 


Dr. Greenway says it doesn’t matter whether it’s a lotion, stick or spray. “The most important thing is that you use sunscreen, so really try to find one that you like.”

Daily skin routine and yearly exam

Think of sun safety as part of your morning routine, like brushing your teeth. Include sunscreen, hats, protective clothing and good sunglasses. Also, stay out of the midday sun, if possible, and avoid tanning beds. If you do get a sunburn, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and moisturize. Severe sunburn may require a corticosteroid.


Dr. Greenway also recommends regular checkups. “If you’re going to live here in California, you ought to be checked once a year, either by your family physician, your internist or your dermatologist.”


Doctors use an "ABCDE" system when checking moles:


  • A is for asymmetry — one side looks different from the other.
  • B is for border — it shouldn’t be irregular.
  • C is for color — a classic melanoma is black.
  • D is for different — does it look different from others?
  • E is for evolving — the mole has somehow changed.


Although a skin cancer diagnosis is scary, new skin cancer treatments are upping the odds for patients. Doctors are relying less on chemotherapy and turning instead to immunotherapy, which boosts your immune system to attack tumors, Dr. Greenway says. “This is a tremendous advance.”

San Diego city leader Kris Michell is featured on the cover of the June 2018 issue of San Diego Health Magazine.

This content appeared in San Diego Health, a publication in partnership between Scripps and San Diego Magazine that celebrates the healthy spirit of San Diego.