Have you ever tried walking across a hot sidewalk or scorching sand without shoes on a sweltering summer day? Ouch! That can really make you want to dip your toes in a cool pool. While moderate amounts of sunlight help the body produce vitamin D that is good for bones, too much can not only make you hopscotch across the pavement as you fumble to put on your flip-flops, and also, eventually damage your skin.
Sunlight delivers both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA penetrates into the deeper skin layers where it affects connective tissue and blood vessels, eventually making the skin lose its elasticity and begin to wrinkle. UVB rays stimulate cells to produce a thicker epidermis (layer of skin). Elevated UVB doses result in sunburn and may increase your chances of developing cancer.
Dr. Colleen Donohue, a family medicine physician with Brookwood Baptist Primary Care, shares some tips for preventing sun damage.
- You don’t need to be indoors all the time to protect yourself from sun damage. But, you should stay out of the sun when it is strongest from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher, avoid sunlamps and tanning beds, wear protective clothing when outdoors during the day, and wear sunglasses that provide 100 percent ultraviolet ray protection.
- Sun safety is important for the whole family. Children under 6 months should be kept out of the sun. Sunscreens specifically for kids are usually better for sensitive skin, and ones that contain zinc oxide are less irritating and give good protection. Kids should have appropriate clothing and a hat to protect from sunburn.
- Sunscreen should be used daily, even when you are not on the beach, at the lake, or by the pool. Check the label to make sure it is Broad Spectrum – which protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. Remember to apply sunscreen before going outside and remember, the product needs 15 minutes or so to dry and absorb. Remember to reapply every few hours. And, don’t forget about your lips; make sure to get a lip balm that contains SPF as well.
Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun can cause noticeable changes to the skin. As these rays penetrate and damage cells, freckles, age spots, spider veins, rough and leathery skin, a blotchy complexion, fine lines, loose skin, and actinic keratoses (rough or scaly areas of skin) may develop. Unprotected exposure to the sun is also the most preventable risk factor for skin cancer.
There are two types of skin cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious form of the disease that accounts for about three percent of skin cancer cases and more than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. Exposure to ultraviolet light and sunburns, especially during childhood, increases the chance for developing this disease. Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are the two kinds of non-melanoma skin cancers. When detected and treated in the early stages, both are rarely fatal. Dr. Donohue recommends a visit to your primary care physician or dermatologist for an annual skin exam.
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