Everyone needs some sun exposure. The emphasis is on “some” because too much sun can cause skin cancer, eye problems, weakened immune system, prematurely aged skin or unsightly skin spots. Knowing how to protect your family from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can turn the “ouch” of a painful sunburn into the “ahhh” of healthy skin.
People with fair hair and complexion, or a personal or family history of skin cancer are at greatest risk of sunburn. But regardless of skin color, everyone can take steps to be sun smart.
- Wear long-sleeve shirts, long pants and a hat to cover the skin and protect against harmful UV rays.
- Apply a generous amount of broad spectrum sunscreen that has anSPFof 15 or higher approximately 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Remember your lips, hands, ears, feet, shoulders, behind your neck and top of your head if you don’t have much hair. Throw away sunscreen that is past the expiration date or more than three years old.
- If around water or swimming, select waterproof or water resistant sunscreen that stays on skin longer. Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours, as recommended by the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Check if any medications can increase sun sensitivity, such as antibiotics or acne medications. Sunscreen may not be able to protect skin from sun sensitivity caused by medications.
- Check your skin regularly for signs of skin cancer. See your doctor if you notice anything unusual.
You may not realize until it is too late that your skin is burned because sunburn can take six to 48 hours to develop. In these situations, apply cool compresses or pure aloe vera to the skin to alleviate heat and help skin heal faster. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be taken to relieve pain. A moisturizing or hydrocortisone cream may be applied to rehydrate skin and reduce swelling. Leave alone any blisters that may develop to reduce the risk of infection or scarring.
- Do not use sunscreen on babies under six months old. Keep them out of the sun or use an umbrella to create shade.
- Protect your eyes with sunglasses that offer 99 to 100 percent UV protection. Encourage children to wear sunglasses that have UV protection for their eyes rather than toy sunglasses.
- Try to stay out of the sun when rays are strongest, typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Don’t be fooled by a cloudy day. Up to 80 percent of rays can penetrate even on an overcast day and reflect off water, sand and concrete.
By Carrie Huner, M.D.
Carrie Huner, M.D. is a family medicine physician with the Brookwood Baptist Primary Care Network in Hoover.
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