Summer is fast approaching, and many of us are digging out our sandals and sun hat. As the temperatures gradually rise in these final Spring days, the sun is hard at work. Even on cooler, overcast days, it’s important to stay vigilant in protecting yourself and your family from sun damage. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to keep your skin healthy while still enjoying the outdoors.
What Causes Sun Damage?
Although sun provides a short-term summertime glow, it’s also responsible for damage like sunburn, wrinkles, and age spots. In addition to cosmetic damage, unprotected sun exposure can also cause skin cancer. For these reasons, it’s essential to protect your skin every day and to have your skin examined by a dermatologist regularly.
The sun is made up of many types of rays; the ones that are most harmful to the skin are UV rays.
- UVA: Often used in tanning beds to tan the skin, UVA rays cause wrinkles and long-term damage to the skin. UVA rays are also linked to some skin cancers.
- UVB: These rays have the intensity to damage the skin’s DNA and are the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer.
Both types of UV rays are linked to skin cancer and can cause painful sunburn, eye damage, and long-term cosmetic damage such as sun spots and wrinkles. The bottom line is, UV rays are never safe, so be diligent in protecting yourself and your family from UV rays year round by following the guidelines below.
What Are The Types Of Sun Damage?
Unprotected exposure to the sun can result in several types of damage:
- Sunburn: The sun burns your skin and leaves it pink, painful, and itchy. Sunburns indicate damage to your skin and can lead to wrinkles and skin cancer.
- Dry skin: The sun has drying effects on your skin that can leave a layer of rough, dry skin cells.
- Wrinkles: UV rays damage the protein in your skin that keeps it firm and resilient. Sun damage can result in fine lines and wrinkles over time.
- Sun spots and Melasma: Clumps of melanin form as your skin is exposed to the sun. This presents itself as dark spots on the skin.
- Solar Keratosis: Crusty patches on the skin. Left untreated, these patches may cause skin cancer.
- Eye conditions: The sun can damage the sensitive tissue of your eyes and lead to impaired vision and increased risk of eye conditions.
How Do You Prevent Sun Damage?
Sun damage prevention is a daily pursuit. Read the guidelines below to see how you can make sun damage prevention part of your daily routine.
Wear Sunscreen Every Day
Although recent research shows that only 14% of Men and 30% of Women in the US wear sunscreen daily, the Skin Cancer Foundation advocates wearing sunscreen every day as part of your routine.
Follow these guidelines for sunscreen:
- Choose a sunscreen that is marked SPF 15 and above.
- Apply at least 1 oz of sunscreen to your entire body.
- Apply 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every 2 hours or as directed.
- Choose waterproof, broad-spectrum sunscreen that shields against UVA and UVB radiation.
- Some sunscreens (even hypoallergenic ones) can irritate the skin and/or cause an allergic reaction. Always try a small amount of sunscreen on your skin before applying it to your whole body.
- Consider the expiration date of your sunscreen. Sunscreen loses its effectiveness after a few years. When in doubt, purchase and apply new sunscreen.
- Read and follow warnings and directions for safe application.
Limit Mid-Day Sun Exposure
Limit your exposure to the sun between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. The UVA and UVB rays are most intense during this part of the day and are harder on your skin. Opt to stay indoors during this time or find shade to protect yourself from harsh, mid-day UV rays.
Wear Protective Clothing
Wear clothing that covers the body. Choose darker, denser materials for added protection, and make sure you cover any exposed skin with sunscreen.
Protect Your Eyes
In addition to damaging your skin, unprotected exposure to the sun can also damage your eyes. UV rays can increase your risk of cataracts and other eye problems; wear wide brimmed hats and sunglasses with 100% UV absorption to protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes from sun damage.
Dehydration can exacerbate sun damage and can make it difficult for your body to heal properly if sunburn occurs. Skin cells are greatly made up of water, so staying hydrated plays a big role in maintaining healthy skin.
Consider Your Medications
Some medications can increase your risk of sunburn or sun damage. Read the warning labels, and talk to your physician to see if the medications you are taking will increase your risk of sun damage.
Protect Your Children
Kids have sensitive skin that burns easily in the sun. Cover your children as much as possible, limit their time in the sun, apply sunscreen, and keep your children hydrated in the hotter months. Babies under 6 months old shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight; keep them covered and in the shade.
See your Primary Care Provider
Seeing your Primary Care Provider at least once a year for a routine check-up is an essential part of maintaining your skin health; early detection of skin cancer saves lives. Contact your Primary Care Provider if you notice any of the following changes to your skin, such as:
- New moles.
- Change in size, shape, or color of existing moles.
- A mole that looks different than other moles on your body.
- Swelling or redness on or around moles.
- Bumpy, rough, bleeding, or pussy moles.
- Pigment that lies outside the mole’s border.
- A sore on your skin that isn’t healing.
In addition to your annual appointment, check yourself from head to toe once a month to monitor any changes to your skin. If you do notice changes, contact your Primary Care Provider right away. A great way to determine if a mole is irregular or may be cancerous is to assess it based on the ABCDE rule.
Contact your Primary Care Provider if you notice the following:
- Asymmetry: The shape of your mole is not symmetrical.
- Border: The border of your mole is blurred or irregular.
- Color: The color of your mole is patchy, inconsistent, or oddly colored (pink, red, white, blue).
- Diameter: Your moles are larger than 6mm across. Get all large moles checked regularly.
- Evolving: Your mole changes over time.
See your Primary Care Provider if you’re ever unsure about your skin or after you experience sunburn. Remember that skin doesn’t have to be directly exposed to the sun to incur damage, so get hard-to-see areas checked regularly as well.
Make safe sun habits a part of your daily routine by staying covered, even on cloudy days. Many types of sun damage are irreversible, so stay diligent. For more tips on sun safety, talk to your provider or contact us to connect with a Primary care Provider at Western Washington Medical Group.