Tammy Losee, C.N.P.
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. The sun isn’t the only skin-damaging predator — tanning beds, smoking and unhealthy diet can also have ill effects on the body’s outer layer.
The key is to be sun savvy and know how to keep your skin healthy. Let’s explore a few tactics to help protect your skin.
- Avoid the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. This is when the sun is most intense and produces the greatest chance of sunburn. If you must be outside during these hours, seek shade by using an umbrella, a tree or other type of shelter. Use protective clothing and sunscreen even when in the shade.
- Use sunscreen when outdoors. Higher SPF numbers indicate increased protection. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using at least SPF 30. Use sunscreen even on cloudy or cool days as damage from the sun’s rays can still occur. Re-apply every two hours or after swimming or when sweating. Also, check the expiration date — shelf life is typically three years, less if it has been stored in high temperatures.
- Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection. Proper, protective sunglasses help prevent damage to the sensitive skin around your eyes, as well as cataracts.
- Don the right head gear. A wide-brimmed hat can protect your face, ears and neck. If wearing a baseball cap, don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your neck and ears. Wear protective clothing that covers exposed areas.
- Be aware of medications that increase your sensitivity to the sun. Some antibiotics and over-the-counter medications can make you more sensitive to sunlight. Common drugs include antihistamines, such as Benadryl; nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin or ibuprofen; certain antibiotics, including Bactrim or Tetracycline; antidepressants; antipsychotics; and some oral diabetic medications. Check with your pharmacist regarding your medication side effects.
- Protect youngsters. Children younger than six months should not use sunscreen but should be protected from the sun’s rays with protective clothing and shade. Children six months or older should have sunscreen applied regularly when outdoors.
- Perform regular skin checks. Look for any changes to moles, freckles or birthmarks. Additionally, monitor any new skin changes that have occurred. Use a mirror to evaluate hard-to-see areas, and have regular skin evaluations by your health care provider or dermatologist.
- Avoid the use of 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 also no proven evidence that use of tanning beds to obtain a base tan decreases your risk of sunburn. Beyond that, use of tanning beds increases the chance of developing cataracts and ocular melanoma.
- Make healthy lifestyle choices. Maintain healthy skin by not smoking. Smoking damages collagen and elastin in your skin. Treat your skin gently by using mild soaps and daily moisturizers. Limit hot showers as this can strip essential oils from your skin. Pat dry after bathing to retain moisture in your skin. Eat a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plenty of water. Engage in stress-reducing activity, and get regular sleep.