Most of us in the United States had wonderful weather this past Memorial Day weekend -- three days of sunny skies and very warm temperatures. My family and I were lying by swimming pools all weekend, enjoying the heat that was much needed, having come out of the worst winter in our state’s history.
But as much as we love the heat and sun, staying protected is a must. Otherwise we run the very real risk of getting skin cancer -- something that tens of thousands of us are diagnosed with every year. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is the most common form of cancer in the United States.
Sunscreen all over is needed. I personally know several people who have had skin cancer of the face and it’s a place we often forget, especially on the nose and forehead.
To avoid skin cancer that is caused by sun exposure, a broad-spectrum sunscreen is needed, that protects against both UVA rays (the kind that cause cancer and early aging) and UVB rays that cause the skin to burn. The form of skin cancer called melanoma can be deadly if not found early.
A double layer is a good idea. We make our kids wait until it has soaked in before we let them jump in the water. And we need to pay special attention to other commonly missed spots -- ears, eyelids, noses and soles of the feet.
The back of the neck also needs attention. For the follicly challenged, making sure bald spots are covered will prevent painful burns on the scalp.
Lip balm with a sunscreen is also good for delicate lips.
Factor 15 or 30 should be the minimum amount of protection. In climates like Australia's where there is a distinct hole in the ozone layer, a very strong sunblock is a good idea.
Using factor 50 will do harm and offers only slightly better protection than Factors 15/30.
Remember that waterproof sunscreens still need to be reapplied at least every two hours.
The CDC reports that those more susceptible to skin cancer have:
- Lighter natural skin color
- Family history of skin cancer
- A personal history of skin cancer
- Exposure to the sun through work and play
- A history of sunburns, especially early in life
- A history of indoor tanning
- Skin that burns, freckles, reddens easily, or becomes painful in the sun
- Blue or green eyes
- Blond or red hair
- Certain types, and a large number of, moles
Common sense should prevail. Seek shade as much as possible. Twenty minutes of sun per day is enough to supply your body with enough Vitamin D.
For those working outside or playing sports, the reapplication of sunscreen as mentioned above every couple of hours is a must, and wearing a hat can help against both heat and the sun’s rays.
Clothing that protects against the sun can be found in most stores these days and swimsuits and sporting clothes have followed suit.
Bad sunburns should not be ignored. While a light burn can be soothed with aloe vera, cool baths or compresses and time out of the sun, more severe burns can bubble, scar and are terribly painful. Bad burns can also cause swelling, nausea, vomiting and flu-like symptoms like chills and fatigue.
The EmpowHER article “Sunburn” by HerWriter Jennifer Hellwig, MS, RD advises further ways of treating burns:
- "Apply a cool water compress to soothe raw, hot skin
- "Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.
- "Take oral or topical corticosteroids. These will help to shorten the course of pain and inflammation. Topical steroids may not relieve skin redness.
- "Take prescription antibiotics if an infection develops.
- "Be extra careful to protect skin after it peels. The skin is very sensitive after peeling."
A dermatologist may be needed for more severe burns.
A general rule is to apply a good sunscreen liberally and often, avoiding the sun as much as possible between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and seeking shade will dramatically decrease the risk of skin cancer, as well as premature aging. Tanning beds are never safe.
The sun can be a healthy source of Vitamin D and generally makes us feel pretty good when outdoors. But bearing in mind that its rays can be very harmful, we can have our cake and eat it too, by using common sense. Now that summer is here, it's very possible to enjoy the weather safely with just a few easy steps.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Skin Cancer. What are the Risk Factors. Web. Retrieved May 25th, 2014.
Empowher.com. Skin, Hair and Nails. Sunburn. Web. Retrieved May 25th, 2014.
Reviewed May 28, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith