We all love to get outside and enjoy the weather on a nice day. Exposure to the sun’s rays can be enjoyable, but too much can become dangerous to the skin and body. Sunburn isn’t the only side effect from an overexposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. Other serious health problems can arise from sun exposure, including premature aging of the skin, eye damage such as cataracts, suppression of the immune system, and even skin cancer. Due to sensitivity of their skin, children are at an even higher risk. It’s important to understand the simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your children from overexposure to sunlight.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States, and also one of the most preventable. More than two million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. By following this simple step-by-step guide, you can enjoy your time in the sun while staying protected from the sun’s harmful rays. These are important to remember everyday, not just during the summer months. Sunscreen and sunglasses should be a part of your daily outdoor attire, regardless of the weather or season.
Prevent Sunburns: Each time you get sunburn, you increase your lifetime risk of developing skin cancer. This fact is especially true for children.
Avoid Tanning: It’s never a good idea to lie out in the sun or lay in a tanning bed. Both sun tanning and tanning beds can cause early wrinkles and skin cancer due to the UV light that each gives off.
Put on Sunscreen: Every time you go outdoors, remember to put a generous amount of sunscreen on. Sunscreen should have a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 or more for sufficient protection from ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UBB) rays. Cover each exposed area of skin with approximately one ounce of sunscreen about 20 to 30 minutes before going outside. Always reapply sunscreen every two hours and after sweating or swimming. Sunscreen is even needed on cold and cloudy days.
Wear Protective Attire: Wearing protective articles of clothing can help to keep the sun from penetrating the skin. This can include long-sleeved shirts, long pants, sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat – whenever possible.
Stay in the Shade: The sun’s rays are strongest in the mid-morning to early evening – typically 10 AM to 4 PM. When possible, it’s best to stay in the shade during these peak sun hours.
Be Cautious: Certain things in the environment can reflect the sun’s damaging rays, increasing your risk of sun damage. Be extra cautious around sand, snow, and water, which can reflect sun rays.
Check UV Index: Look to the daily issued UV Index by the National Weather Service to find important information to decrease your chances of getting sunburn. The UV Index is also a good guide to help you plan your outdoor activities safely.
Obtain Vitamin D Safely: While the sun provides Vitamin D to the skin, it’s important to seek sources of Vitamin D other places. Get your daily amount of Vitamin D through your diet instead – with foods, drinks, and vitamin supplements fortified with Vitamin D.
Important Considerations for Children
Modern medical studies show that it’s highly important to protect adults and children from overexposure to UV radiation caused from sunlight. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following tips for babies under 6 months of age:
- Avoid exposure to the sun
- Dress infants in lightweight long-sleeved shirts, pants, and brimmed-hat
Parents can also apply a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or more to small areas on the infant, such as the face and back of the hands if the clothing or shade is not sufficient.
In 2007, approximately 58,094 people in the U.S. were diagnosed with skin cancer, including 25,053 women and 33,041 men. Out of this total, 8,461 people in the U.S. died from skin cancer, including 2,955 women and 5,506 men. Non-epithelial skin cancers represent 7 percent of skin cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancers appear to be on the rise among young adults in the United States – more so in women. The reason for this is unknown, but is suspected to be due to the rise in popularity of tanning beds.
Tips for Self-Skin Exams and What to Look For
The high cure rate of non-melanoma skin cancer is because of the ability to detect it in its early stages. Each person should play an active role in the healthcare of their skin by learning how to properly check their bodies for possible cancerous lesions. To check your skin, you will need a full-length mirror, a handheld mirror, a bright light, and a comb. Look over each part of your body and examine the shape, size, and color of any blemishes you find on your skin. Get to know your skin by recognizing these spots so you can take notice of any change in appearance.
- After taking a bath or shower, examine the skin on your face and head, using two mirrors to view hard to see areas. Use the comb to check the skin under the hair. Also check your neck, chin, and behind your ears.
- Examine the tops and bottoms of both your hands and feet, between your fingers and toes, and around your fingernails and toenails.
- Examine your chest, stomach, forearms, upper arms, and underarms. Women should also check the skin around and beneath the breasts.
- While sitting, check your thighs, shins, tops of the feet, and soles of the feet. More than 60 percent of melanoma occurs on the feet in African-Americans.
- Use the hand-held mirror to check the calves and back of the thighs, lower back, upper back, back of the neck, buttocks, and genital area.
Generally speaking, you should be looking for any changes in appearance of the spots on your skin. Some warning signs could include new red or dark-colored patches or nodules, new firm, flesh-colored bumps, sores that bleed and do not heal after 2 to 3 weeks, and moles that change in size, color, or shape. If you see anything suspicious, it’s important to contact your primary care physician or a dermatologist as soon as possible so that he or she can properly examine the skin.