All Eyes On Skin Cancer Awareness Month

As spring turns into summer, warmth and sunshine beckons us outside more and more each day. The month of May marks Skin Cancer Awareness Month, serving as a crucial reminder to safeguard our skin (and our eyes) against the harmful effects of overexposure to the sun.

Skin cancer continues to be a pervasive threat, with over 5 million Americans diagnosed annually. Luckily, we have solutions like sunscreen to help protect us from sun damage, but the delicate skin around our eyes is often overlooked. For Skin Cancer Awareness Month we are here to remind you that comprehensive sun protection is imperative for preventing skin cancer. Plus, we have some tips on sunscreen application along the periocular region to maximize your sunscreen’s efficacy. But first, let’s review the basics of sunscreen.

What to Look For In a Sunscreen

Sunscreen is available in a chemical or mineral formula—or a combination of the two. Mineral sunscreen is comprised of minerals such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Mineral formulas, also referred to as physical sunscreen, works like a shield to block rays from penetrating the skin. Chemical based sunscreens may include ingredients such as avobenzone and octisalate, which absorb UV rays before they damage the skin. Both types of sunscreen are considered safe and effective. In general, the best sunscreen is the one you will use, so try not to overthink it! Here are some things to look for when shopping for sunscreen:

  • SPF of 15 or higher for short intervals outside.
  • SPF of 30 or higher for extended periods of time outdoors.
  • Broad-spectrum protection from UVA and UVB rays.
  • Use water resistant formulas if you plan on swimming or exercising (sweating).

Our personal favorite is ophthalmologist-recommended Obagi Sun Shield SPF 50, which combines UVB and UVA protection in an elegant, matte finish. Sun Shield is both non-comedogenic and dermatologist tested. Sun Shield is available for purchase at our main location on New Hanover Medical Park Drive and our Oculoplastic Center, no prescription needed.

Proper SPF Application Around the Eyes

The delicate skin surrounding our eyes can be particularly vulnerable to sun damage. Repeated sun exposure in the periocular region can lead to premature aging, wrinkles, sunspots, and more serious concerns such as periocular cancer. When it comes to applying sunscreen to these areas, precision and patience is key.

With clean hands, squeeze a dime-sized amount of SPF 15 or higher on your finger. Gently but firmly close your eyes without scrunching them up and dab the product along your eyelids and under-eye area until it is blended. It is best to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before exposure to water or sun. This allows your skin to better absorb the product and helps prevent sunscreen from running into your eyes. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 2 hours to all exposed skin, or more frequently, if swimming or sweating.

However, sunscreen should not be your only line of defense against sun damage. A wide-brimmed hat and a quality pair of polarized, UV-blocking sunglasses are an excellent tool for shielding your eyes and the delicate areas of your face from the sun. More specifically, sunglasses may help prevent skin cancer development around the eyes and potentially reduce the development of cataracts. Not all sunglasses are created equal, so make sure you are wearing UV-blocking lenses like those offered at Wilmington Eye optical shops. If you have any questions about your current pair, or if you’d like to shop a new pair of shades, visit any of our 6 locations to speak with one of our skilled opticians about your options.

Does Everyone Need Sunscreen?

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sunscreen should be worn by “everyone under the sun” who is 6 months or older, including those who rarely burn or tan easily. Infants who are too young for sunscreen should be covered up in the shade with protective clothing.

Some individuals are at a higher risk than others and should take additional precautions, such as those with freckles or lighter skin tones. Certain health conditions and medications can also increase one’s risk of sun damage by increasing photosensitivity. Photosensitivity can result from a variety of factors such as the use of antihistamines, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), retinols, St. John’s Wort, and more. Autoimmune conditions like lupus and psoriasis may also have an impact on photosensitivity. It’s important to speak with your doctor about these nuances so that you can take additional precautions, if need be. Ask your doctor if any of your prescribed medications, supplements, or underlying health conditions may result in increased photosensitivity.

Protecting Your Skin All Year

When used as directed, regular use of SPF 15 can significantly lower your risk of two types of cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Combined with other lines of defense, such as UV-blocking sunglasses, protective clothing, and taking breaks in the shade, you can minimize your risk even further. Sun safe habits should be practiced all year round — even on cloudy days!

We are here for all of your sun protection needs, whether you need a reliable and ophthalmologist-approved sunscreen, UV-blocking sunglasses, or help addressing a medical issue related to sun damage on or near your eyes. Contact us today for further assistance and remember to protect you and your family from the potential risks of sun damage this summer!