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Staying Safe in the Summer Sun

Summer is in full swing and with the sun shining bright it’s a golden time to celebrate July as UV Safety Month. While we want you to be outside and physically active, we also want you to be safe when in the sun.

During the summer season, you are likely taking advantage of the warm weather by spending more time outdoors. While soaking up rays can be good for the soul after a long winter, it can be harmful for the health of your skin. The skin is the body’s largest organ, protecting us from heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, with studies linking overexposure to the sun with a weakened immune system, premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts, and skin cancer. More than 90% of skin cancer is caused by sun exposure and the American Cancer Society estimates more than one million new cases will be diagnosed this year. When you’re outside this summer, remember to protect your skin and eyes from the damaging effects of the sun.

Everyone can be affected differently by UV rays. Even though people with light skin are much more likely to have sun damage, anyone can be impacted. For some people, the skin tans when it absorbs UV rays and for others it causes sunburn. Sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer, including melanoma. However, UV exposure can raise skin cancer risk at any age, even without causing sunburn. Be especially careful in the sun if you burn easily, spend a lot of time outdoors, or have physical features such as fair skin, moles, freckles, and blond, red, or light brown hair.

There are many simple steps you can take to protect your skin from the harmful effects of UV rays. When you plan to be in the sun, recall the motto, “Slip! Slop! Slap!® and Wrap” to help you remember how to stay safe:

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect the eyes and skin around them.

More ways to safeguard your skin include:

  • Cover Up. Wearing protective clothing that will guard your skin from harmful UV rays. Dark colors and dry fabrics are generally most shielding. UV rays become more intense in the spring, even before temperatures get warmer. Sun damage can occur on a cloudy day and even in the winter, so dress appropriately all year round.
  • Wear a Hat. A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim and dark, non-reflective underside is ideal because it protects particularly sensitive areas that are often exposed to intense sunlight, such as the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
  • Wear Sunglasses. Make sure your sunglasses block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. This will protect you against eye diseases and damage to the delicate skin around the eyes.
  • Avoid Sunburn. Sunburns significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer. It is especially important that children do not experience sunburn.
  • Stay in the shade. Stay out of the sun, if possible, between the peak hours of 10:00 am and 4:00 pm. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Use extra caution when near reflective surfaces. Water, snow, sand, and even windows can reflect the damaging rays of the sun. UV rays can also reach below the water’s surface, so you can still get burned while swimming.
  • Check the UV Index. If you plan to be outdoors, you can check the UV Index for your area in local newspapers, TV, radio, and online forecasts.
  • Use extra caution when at higher altitudes. UV exposure can be more dangerous at higher altitudes, because there is less atmosphere to absorb UV radiation.
  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen. Generously apply broad-spectrum sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. Make sure when checking labels that it protects against both UVA and UVB rays and has a sun protection factor (SPF) value of at least 15. If you are planning to be in the sun for an extended period of time, a sunscreen that is water-resistant with an SPF of 30 or higher is recommended. Don’t forget to check the expiration date. Sunscreens are available in many forms such as lotions, creams, ointments, gels, sprays, wipes, lip balms, etc. Some cosmetics, such as moisturizers, lipsticks, and foundations also contain sunscreen. Be sure to test sunscreen prior to use for skin irritation.
  • Re-apply sunscreen throughout the day. Even water-resistant sunscreen must be reapplied throughout the day, especially after sweating or swimming. To be safe, apply one ounce of sunscreen every two hours.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Research has shown tanning bed use to be linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if used before the age of 30. Sunless tanning lotion can provide a darker look without the danger.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreens should be used on babies over the age of six months.
  • Perform self-exams regularly. It’s important to examine your skin every month because skin cancers detected early can almost always be cured. The most important warning sign is a spot on the skin that is changing in size, shape, or color during a period of 1 month to 1 or 2 years. If you find unusual skin changes, see a provider immediately.
  • See your provider every year for a professional skin exam.
  • Ask your provider, nurse, or pharmacist if you are taking any medications that could increase your sensitivity to sunlight.

Exposure to sunlight is not all bad; it can have positive effects as well. When you are in the sun, your skin naturally produces vitamin D. Vitamin D has many health benefits such as protecting against depression, insomnia, and an overactive immune system. It may even help lower the risk of osteoporosis, heart disease, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and colon. How much vitamin D your body makes depends on several factors, including your age, skin color, and how strong the sunlight is where you live.

“Currently, research is suggesting an optimal range for lab value of vitamin D intake to be 25-50, but that may change as more research is done,” said Dr. Clemma Nash, Functional Medicine Physician at the Roberts location. “It can be difficult to know exactly how much sun exposure would be needed to reach the ideal range. Whenever possible, it’s best to get vitamin D from your diet or vitamin supplements rather than from sun exposure because these do not increase the risk of skin cancer, and are typically more reliable ways to get the amount you need.”

Learn more at wwhealth.org or call us at 715-684-1111 to schedule an appointment.

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