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By Rebecca Roybal Jones

Fun in the Sun

UNM Dermatologist Offers Skin Care Tips

Caring for the body’s largest organ ­– your skin – might seem daunting these days. First, there were the recent sunscreen recalls. Now, with fall’s cooler weather creeping in, you may find your skin getting dry and itchy.

John Durkin, MD, who sees patients at The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center and the UNM Dermatology Clinic, offered some tips on keeping skin protected and moisturized in our sunny, arid climate.

Some companies recently recalled sunscreens after finding they were contaminated with benzene, a cancer-causing chemical. Since then, patients have been asking what they should use, Durkin says. He recommends using a mineral-based sunscreen.

“The truth is we are still finding some things out about sunscreen but overall, we still do recommend sunscreen as a means of protection against the risk of skin cancer – both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer,” Durkin says.

Sunscreen protects skin not only from burning but from damage that causes wrinkles and other damage from UV light and the sun.

“Mineral sunscreens aren't absorbed into the skin,” Durkin explains. “They sit on top of the skin. Those sunscreens don't have a negative effect on the coral reef or the environment. We know those sunscreens are generally safe and not harmful.”

Chemical sunscreens, on the other hand, work by actually being absorbed into the skin, he says. Sunscreens that contain oxybenzone or avobenzone are considered chemical sunscreens, he says.

Alternative means of protecting yourself from the sun’s powerful rays can include wearing protective clothing, such as longer sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat and gloves.

“Those are safe ways to protect yourself from the sun, especially if you have concerns over the safety of certain sunscreens,” he says.

He also suggests avoiding spending time outside from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., when the sun is at its peak, he says. Walks, runs, gardening and other outdoor activities should take place early in the day or in the evening.

A couple of oral supplements may offer protection and can be taken in addition to wearing sunscreen for people who are particularly sensitive to the sun or undergoing treatment for cancer, Durkin says. Nicotinamide, a water-soluble formulation of vitamin B3, and has been shown to decrease the risk of skin cancer. The other supplement that protects skin from UV damage is Polypodium leucotomos, a plant-based antioxidant. But neither should be used as a substitution for wearing sunscreen, he says.

As we move into cooler weather, you may notice that your skin is dry and itchy. Here are some ways to protect it.


John Durkin, MD
No. 1 is, of course, to moisturize
John Durkin, MD

Decide which works best for you – ointments, creams or lotions, he says.

Though ointments tend to be the best type of moisturizer, they can also leave your skin feeling greasy.

“The next best thing to moisturize your skin with is a cream,” he says. “Creams tend to be a little bit thicker, absorb better and tend to be less messy.”

For people with sensitivities to fragrances or certain ingredients, he recommends seeking out products that are fragrance-free or labeled as being designed for sensitive skin.

For people who have mildly dry skin, a lotion might work best, he says.

“I think patients who have more severe dry skin would benefit more from a cream or an ointment,” he says.

The No. 1 thing that dries out skin? Taking really hot or long showers. So, he recommends limiting the time and using lukewarm water in the shower. Also, some soaps, especially body washes, can dry out the skin.

Liquid soaps and body washes tend to be more drying, he says. As rule, bar soaps don’t usually dry out skin as much as body washes do, he says. And, using your moisturizer (lotion, cream or ointment) right after showering is the best time to lock in the skin’s moisture, he says.

Get the Best Care for Your Skin

UNM Health provides the very best in medical, surgical and aesthetic dermatologic care for patients of any age and of any background.
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