Debbie MacCary sprays on sunscreen before enjoying a morning at Onota Lake in Pittsfied.
Debbie MacCary sprays on sunscreen before enjoying a morning at Onota Lake in Pittsfied. (John Sakata / Berkshire Eagle Staff)

NORTH ADAMS -- Before heading outdoors to enjoy the summer sun, Victoria Cavalli grabs a hat, sunglasses and applies generous doses of a carefully vetted sunscreen.

As the dermatologist who runs Dermatology of the Berkshires in North Adams, she knows better than others that prolonged and direct exposure to sun can lead to wrinkles, scarring, or in the worst case scenario, skin cancer.

It's easy to avoid, she says, but many people leave themselves vulnerable.

"It makes me cringe when I see young children [that are unprotected] and they are being hit by the sunlight," Cavalli said.

Dr. Behzad Parhizgar, division chief of dermatology at Berkshire Medical Center, said in an email that the effects of the sun's rays are cumulative over time, so people should protect themselves from the sun year-round.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, according to the Mayo Clinic. The cancer is usually not life-threatening, but results from extended exposure to ultraviolet rays.

Skin cancer symptoms include the changing of size, shape, or skin color or anything growing or bleeding on the skin.

"Even short exposure are cumulative over time and can be damaging," Parhizgar said.

The blistering summer is an invitation to bask and soak in the sun on the beach or splash around cool waves, but unless properly protected, people are putting themselves at unnecessary risk, Cavalli said.

But which sunscreen should they use?

It can be difficult to know when looking at an aisle-long selection.


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There's a lot to consider when choosing a sunscreen. There are varying levels of sun protection factor (SPF). This needs to be weighed against criteria that includes sprays, lotions and creams.

Sun lotions will also market ingredients that are hard to decipher.

Cavalli said she relies on time-tested forms of suntan lotion that include zinc oxide and titanium, which reflect away the sun instead of absorbing the sun's rays.

"They've been around forever," she said.

"According to FDA rules, only sunscreens with an SPF of 15+ and comparable UVA protection may be considered an effective broad spectrum product," Parhizgar said.

Dermatologists overwhelmingly say people should look for a broad spectrum lotion, which protects people from both long and short waves from the sun. They recommend generous doses and suggest re-applying sunscreen throughout the day following swims or extended outdoor bouts.

Creams and lotions should be applied to all exposed skin 30 minutes before going outdoors. Sprays and liquids can take more time to absorb into the skin.

Cavalli says she sees patients with painful sunburns around the back of their necks and the top of their ears.

Dermatologists say people enjoying the outdoors should be mindful about applying sunscreen.
Dermatologists say people enjoying the outdoors should be mindful about applying sunscreen. (John Sakata / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
In the past, she said, she's had a patient walk into her office with painful sun blisters along the sides of his feet.

Older adults are susceptible to skin cancer, Cavalli said, so she said they should take extra precautions.

"Introducing children to the rules of protection and the use of sunscreen at an early age will also instill good habits and reduce the risk for the most common forms of skin cancer," Parhizgar said. "Most people receive the majority of their lifetime sun exposure by age 18."

To reach John Sakata:
jsakata@berkshireeagle.com, or (413) 496-6240.
On Twitter: @jsakata