Summer is now upon us and many of us are looking forward to enjoying some “fun in the sun”. Spending time outside is a great way to be physically active, reduce stress, and spend time with loved ones, however without properly protecting your skin from the sun, you are inadvertently increasing your risk of skin cancer. And let’s not forget about those other undesirable physical signs of sun damage: wrinkles, discoloration, and leathery appearing skin. Remember, your skin is the largest organ in your body. Show it some love!
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, affecting 1 in 5 people during their lifetime. The incidence of melanoma skin cancer, the most fatal form of skin cancer, is increasing faster than any other potentially preventable cancer in the US. So, it is important to understand that most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV rays come from the sun as well as tanning beds and directly cause damage to skin cells. Sun damage occurs with each unprotected sun exposure and accumulates over the course of a lifetime. It is this progressive accumulation of sun exposure that increases the risk of skin cancer. It’s quite simple: if we can prevent sun damage to the skin, then we can prevent most skin cancers. But have no worries, you can still protect yourself from the sun’s damaging effects while still enjoying yourself outdoors.
The immediate danger of too much sun is a sunburn which results in the dreaded and painful first degree burns that many of us are all too familiar with. Often, folks will use just enough SPF to avoid sunburn, but protection from sunburn is not the most important reason for wearing sunscreen. Your skin can be harmed from continued sun exposure whether you see a burn or not. Therefore everyone, despite the individual’s tendency to burn, should be protecting themselves from UV rays. Also, it is important that this is done all year, not just during the summer. UV rays can reach you even on cloudiest or coolest of days and can reflect off surfaces such as water and snow.
Staying out of the sun completely is the best way to avoid sun damage, however for most of us this is not practical. So, if you plan on going outside, you should take these precautions:
Always wear sunscreen. Apply it on your skin every day. Make it a habit just as you do with brushing your teeth. Use a minimum SPF 30. Be sure to cover all exposed areas, and don’t forget your ears, eyelids, lips, and back of your hands. Apply every 2 hours while you are outdoors. Apply more frequently if you perspire or get wet.
Avoid sun in the middle of the day, from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The ultraviolet rays which cause skin damage are strongest during this time.
Wear protective clothing when you do go outdoors for long periods. For example, a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat will protect your body against the sun’s harmful effects.
Daily skin protection from the sun is an imperative component of a healthy, skin cancer-free lifestyle. So, show your skin some love by incorporating the above precautions into your daily routine.
Written by Genna Lubrano, MD who is a native Houstonian with the OakBend Medical Group. To request an appointment to see Dr. Lubrano call 281-497-0296.