The American Cancer Society reports that skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and that more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed yearly, more than all other cancer types combined.
Not only are most skin cancers preventable, the sun damages more than just the skin. Fortunately, many options exist for enjoying the sun and being protected from its harmful rays. Apply these tips to help you enjoy the sun, be safe from harmful UV rays, and recover from sun damage.
Before Sun Exposure
- Avoid Sunburn – Sunburn and tanning are both just short-term effects of sun damage. Long-term effects include premature skin aging, loss of skin elasticity, dark patches, pre-cancer and cancer. Avoid sunburn and tanning whenever possible.
- Apply Sunscreen - While sunscreen does provide protection from the sun, it does not provide 100% protection against UV rays. To get the full benefit of sunscreen, first read labels before buying to ensure choosing the best protection possible. Second, understand what the numbers on the bottle mean. Third, note the expiration date on the sunscreen and act accordingly. Finally, apply sunscreen liberally. Approximately a palmful provides adequate protection, and follow product directions for reapplication.
- Check Medications - Many medications increase sun sensitivity and burning rate. A doctor or pharmacist can tell you if your medication makes you more susceptible to sun damage, but know that antibiotics and acne medications are common culprits.
During Sun Exposure
- Wear Protective Clothing – Cover as much skin as possible, especially the longer you are in the sun. Some clothing now comes with sun protection factor, but any clothing you can’t see the sun through blocks at least some of the harmful rays. There are even products you can buy that are used in washing machines to add UV protection to clothing.
- Wear a Hat - Hats with 2-3” brims all the way around provide sun protection to the head and neck. While most people wear either a baseball cap or a straw hat, keep their limitations in mind. A baseball cap, for instance, does not protect the neck and ears, and straw hats tend to have loose weaves that let sunlight through to skin.
- Wear Sunglasses - Sunglasses that block UV rays not only protect eyes from sun damage, they also protect areas around the eyes. Ideal sunglasses should block 99-100% of UV rays. Dark sunglasses aren’t naturally better because the sun protection comes from an invisible coating applied to lenses, and large-framed and wrap-around sunglasses provide the most comprehensive protection. Finally, realize that a sunglasses price doesn’t predict its ability to protect eyes. In fact, a wide range of sunglasses in various prices and features all protect eyes from the sun. Simply make sure sunglasses are labeled as blocking 99-100% of UV rays.
- Seek Shade - When the sun’s rays are at their strongest, no amount of sunscreen or clothing provides total protection against sun damage. At times, the best protection is seeking shade. Remember that when you can’t see your shadow, the sun is at its strongest.
Sometimes, even though we do our best to prevent sunburn something gets missed or forgotten. The result: painful sunburn. When this happens, take action to alleviate the discomfort and aid healing. Common methods include taking a cool bath, applying aloe vera gel, taking anti-inflammatory medication and applying moisturizing cream. If sunburn is severe enough for blisters to develop, see your doctor.
Taking the proper precautions goes a long way in preventing sunburn as well as its short and long-term effects. The post “Sun Safety: Special Considerations & Additional Thoughts” will bring this discussion of sun safety full circle by discussing some unique situations and elements that need considered in order to truly be safe in the sun.