Protect your skin all summer long
GRAND FORKS — As summer heats up, people are flocking to parks and lakes, playgrounds and pools to enjoy the great outdoors.
“Sun is the biggest ager,” Suda said. “A tan is sun damage.
“Be aware that — depending on your skin type especially — you should avoid exposure to the sun when it’s the strongest: from 10 (a.m.) to 2 (p.m.),” she said. “If you go out and your skin is not protected, you’re setting your skin up for problems down the line.”
Fair-skinned people or anyone with red hair should be particularly careful, she said.
“The more sunburns you have, the greater your chances are for getting skin cancer.”
A person’s risk for melanoma — the most serious form of skin cancer — doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
One blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life.
Getting a sunburn is fairly common, the foundation reported. In a recent survey, it found that 42 percent of people polled get a sunburn at least once a year.
When you’re at the beach on a clear summer day, bear in mind that the water and sand reflect the sun’s UV rays, allowing them to hit your skin and eyes twice, Suda said. Sand reflects an extra 15 percent of UV light, and water up to 10 percent.
“You don’t have to be baking in the sun to enjoy the summer,” she said. “Sit in the shade.”
When choosing a sunscreen product, “look for one that’s ‘broad spectrum,’ with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher,” Suda said. “The higher the better.
“Apply it 15 to 30 minutes before you go out, and reapply it every two to three hours.”
Common skin cancers
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the country, according to the foundation. Nearly 3.7 million skin cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. annually, and the vast majority of them are caused by solar UV radiation (UVR), according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The two most common non-melanoma skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are caused by accumulation of sun exposure over many years, Suda said.
“We have farmers (as patients) who say ‘but I’m not in the sun much anymore.’ That doesn’t matter, because (skin cancer results from) the accumulation of sun exposure over years.”
The most common locations for these cancers are the face, ears and hands, the foundation reports. But they can appear in an area of the body that is not exposed to the sun.
Melanoma, on the other hand, is believed to be the result of brief, intense exposure — a blistering sunburn — rather than years of tanning, Suda said. Other risk factors include family history, skin type and having a large number of sizable moles on the body.
Melanoma can appear on any area of the body, regardless of whether or not a sunburn occurred in that location.
Also, “melanoma can come from no sun exposure,” she said. “It can pop up anywhere.”
Clothing as protection
Clothing is our first line of defense against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays and protects the skin by absorbing or blocking much of this radiation, Suda said. The more skin you cover, the better.
Dark or bright colors, like red or black, absorb more UV rays than white or pastel shades, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The more intense the hue, the better the UV defense.
The foundation also recommends:
— Shirts with a high collar give added protection for the back of the neck.
— Check for clothing tags that indicate the level of sun protection with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor number. A shirt with a UPF of 50, for example, allows just 1/50th of the sun’s UV radiation to reach the skin. The higher the UPF, the greater the protection.
— Increase your clothes’ UPF by washing a laundry additive like SunGuard’s RIT into them. A laundry additive can raise the UPF of an everyday white cotton T-shirt from a UPF of about 5 to 30.
— Consider wearing scarves and wraps to shield the neck, upper chest and shoulder area.
— Suda and her colleagues at Truyu recommend a line of clothing and hats called Coolibar — made from materials that provide added skin protection, which is endorsed by the American College of Dermatology, she said.
Don’t forget hat, sunglasses
Hats are the head’s first line of defense, Suda said. They provide protection to the scalp, where it’s difficult to apply sunscreen, and areas where people forget to apply sunscreen such as the top of the ears and back of neck.
Baseball caps don’t cut it, she said. “The hat needs to be broad-brimmed to cover the ears, face and neck.”
Hats are especially important for men who have thinning hair and are at risk for developing skin cancer on the top of their heads, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
The face and neck receive the most sun exposure and are particularly susceptible to basal and squamous cell carcinoma.
People with melanomas of the head and neck are almost twice as likely to die from the disease as patients with melanomas on other parts of the body, the foundation reports.
Sunglasses are also essential, according to Suda. “Choose a pair that wraps completely around the face and eyes.”
Watch for labeling that verifies the glasses block 99 to 100 percent of all UV radiation.
Over time, solar UVR can cause or contribute to conditions ranging from cataract and macular degeneration to ocular melanomas and other skin cancers, the foundation said. Five to 10 percent of all skin cancers arise on the eyelids.
Any burn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body, the foundation states. In case of sunburn, drink extra water, juice and sports drinks for a couple of days and watch for signs of dehydration, such as dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, headache, dizziness and sleepiness.
Take some ibuprofen, such as Advil, as soon as you see signs of sunburn and keep it up for the next 48 hours, the foundation recommends. It reduces swelling and redness that is going to occur and may prevent some long-term skin damage.
Acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, will treat the pain, but does not have the same anti-inflammatory effect.
After a cool shower or bath, slather on moisturizing lotion, the foundation states.
“A cool compress can help too,” Suda said.
If you get a sunburn, let it be a lesson to take necessary steps to protect your skin, she said