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Bradenton dermatologist recommends shunning the sun

Bradenton dermatologist Susan Weinkle wishes that Coco Chanel, the designer icon who set the standard for elegant fashion, had shunned the sun. But no, the French clothing designer icon, famed for Chanel suits and good perfume, skewered an early 20th belief that pale skin was a status symbol.

Chanel, who was born in 1883 when parasols were in vogue and died in 1971 when bikinis were standard, liked to frolic in the sun. She changed the status of tans.

Once tans signified that whoever had one must be a laborer. After Chanel decided to bop around with brown skin, tans were seen as a glamorous sign of the leisure class who could afford to hang around on yachts.

"Really, it's true!" said Weinkle. "I like Chanel, but I wish she hadn't done that."

Weinkle sees the results of sun-damaged skin every day in her office, from life-threatening melanoma to age-revealing wrinkles and brown spots.

In sun-fierce Florida, skin takes a pounding, even if exposure is only years of walking back and forth to the car and driving. The left side of the face often is the first side to show wrinkles. Blame it on sunbeams coming through the driver's window.

Weinkle said she is able to tell if someone spent most of his or her lifetime in, say, the Midwest or in Florida. The long-time Floridian will have more skin damage.

"People who are 30 look fine. Then they come in when they are 50 or 60 and say, 'How did this happen?' said Weinkle about cumulative sun damage.

So, for those of us who want to take care of our skin -- short of moving to North Dakota -- what to do?

Dermatologists such as Weinkle recommend being savvy about sunscreen. It's relatively easy to miss the mark, such as swiping on too little.

"My patients will say, "I use sunscreen every day,'" said Weinkle. "I ask them to look at their skin that is exposed and the skin that is covered up. Are they the same color?"

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunscreen should be used daily, including cloudy days. Other ADA guidelines:

n Choose a sunscreen that is SPF 30 or above and is labeled broad spectrum for protecting against both UVA and UVB rays.

n Apply on all exposed skin, including ear tips and back of the neck.

n Don't skimp. When most of the skin is exposed, an application of sunscreen should be about one ounce -- the size of a shot glass.

n Reapply as frequently as every two hours when in the sun. After swimming, slather up again.

n Pick a water-resistant sunscreen. ("Water-proof" and "sweat-proof" are no longer being used on labels because all sunscreens wash off.)

Another recommendation is dressing for the sunny weather. That means a floppy hat at the beach or during activities such as gardening.

An option for outdoor lovers is sun-protective clothing made with special fabric that blocks ultraviolet rays. The fabric isn't the same as in a standard T-shirt, which offers far less sun-protection, especially when the shirt is wet.

Sun-protective clothing, from hats to swimwear, is available through mail order from companies such as Solumbra and Coolimax and also sold in department and sporting goods stores and places such as Target.

Weinkle loves kayaking and has relied on sun-protective clothing for years.

When on the water, Weinkle dresses in Solumbra clothing from head to toe: Long pants, long-sleeved shirt, hat and gloves. She orders the clothes in all white because white is reflective. The only place she needs sunscreen is her face.

After four hours of kayaking in mid-summer, her skin shows no signs of having been in the sun, said Weinkle.

And no, she said, she doesn't get overheated in all those clothes. They have abundant wicking and airflow pockets.

"My patients are skeptical about whether they'll be hot. But they come in and tell me they were actually cooler," she said.

She admits the kayaking outfit might look a little weird to some.

"I have this funny picture of me. I look kind of like a Martian, but who cares?" said Weinkle.

"When you're on the water, you don't need to look glamorous. What's glamorous is when you go to a party in a cocktail dress and your décolletage doesn't look so spotted."

Susan Hemmingway, Herald health correspondent, can be contacted at shemmingway@hotmail.com.

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