Did you know that ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes? Prolonged exposure and damage can lead to various forms of skin cancer, many of which, thankfully, are preventable.
Often, we think about applying sunscreen or wearing protective clothing when we’re going to the beach or other fun, sun activities. However, it is the everyday activities, like taking a walk or washing the car in the middle of the day, that can also lead to sun exposure. Please consider some of these helpful tips below by the National Women’s Health Network:
• Cover up. No sunscreen offers 100% resistance to sun rays; wear protective clothing when going outside, including a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
• Timing is everything. Try to stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest. Long periods of exposure during these primetime hours can be harmful; if you must be outside during these hours, seek shade and take frequent breaks from the sun.
• Lather up. Choose a sunscreen lotion over a sunscreen spray. Sprays are difficult to apply correctly and thoroughly and may increase your risk of inhaling dangerous chemicals. Look for an SPF of 30 or higher and apply to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors.
• Get the best of both worlds. Your sunscreen should provide broad-spectrum coverage to protect skin from both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) rays.
• Don’t forget to reapply. Remember that protection only lasts about two hours, so make sure to reapply throughout the day and after getting out of the water.
• It’s what’s on the inside that counts. Avoid sunscreens that contain vitamin A, which can increase your risk of cancer, and oxybenzone, which can cause allergic reactions and interfere with hormones.
Children have special needs when it comes to the sun
Children younger than six months should not use sunscreen but should be protected from the sun’s rays with protective clothing and by keeping them out of direct sunlight or in the shade between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Children 6 months or older should have sunscreen applied regularly when outdoors and reapplied after they’ve been swimming, even if it’s cool and cloudy as clouds do not block UV rays.
For healthy skin... and eyes!
You should also avoid using tanning beds. Tanning beds produce harmful UVA and UVB rays, which increase the risk for skin cancer, including melanoma — the deadliest form of skin cancer. There is no proven evidence that use of tanning beds to obtain a “base tan” decreases your risk of sunburn and you may be damaging your eyes and eye sight in the process.
Finally, it’s important to perform regular skin checks on your own and have regular skin evaluations by your health care provider or dermatologist. Look for any changes to moles, freckles or birthmarks. Use a mirror to evaluate hard-to-see areas and monitor any new skin changes that have occurred.
If you have any questions, contact your medical provider or Finger Lakes Community Health at (315) 781-8448.
Dr. Raquel Reyes is in Internal Medicine-Pediatrics at Finger Lakes Community Health, an independent healthcare organization with eight health centers in the region.