During the summer, you may to like to go to the beach, go to a water or theme park, enjoy a picnic outside or even just go for a stroll outside. While you’re outside soaking up the sun, you should be sure to protect your skin.
Protecting your skin from the sun can help prevent the premature aging of the skin, wrinkles, cataracts and skin cancer. You can protect your skin by applying sunscreen, wearing protective clothing and staying in the shade.
How does the sun affect my skin?
The sun emits ultraviolet (UV) radiation. UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. It has shorter wavelengths that are invisible to the naked eye. The skin uses UV rays to help manufacture vitamin D, which is important for normal bone formation, but sometimes UV rays can have negative effects.
There are two rays associated with UV radiation. Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer UV ray. This causes lasting skin damage, skin aging and can cause skin cancer. Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the shorter UV ray. It causes sunburns, skin damage and can cause skin cancer. UV rays can also reflect off of surfaces such as water, cement, sand and snow. The most hazardous times for UV exposure is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
What types of skin cancers exist?
Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers. About 3.5 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer and 73,000 cases of melanoma, a more dangerous skin cancer, are diagnosed every year. So, what are these skin cancers?
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers start in the basal cells or squamous cells of the skin, which are found in the outer layer of the skin. They typically develop on sun-exposed areas of the skin. Basal cell cancers grow slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body. Squamous cell cancers are more likely to grow into deeper layers of the skin. Both of these cancers can be cured if they are found early, but can cause problems if they are left untreated.
Melanoma skin cancer begins in the melanocytes, the cells that give the skin color. Melanoma can develop on virtually any part of the skin and eyes, including places that are not normally exposed to the sun. Melanoma is more likely to spread and grow to other parts of the body where it can be hard to treat. When detected in the early stages, melanoma is curable.
Signs and symptoms of skin cancer include:
- Changes in skin, especially the size or color of a mole, growth or spot
- Scaliness, roughness, oozing, bleeding or change in the way an area of skin looks
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- The spread of color beyond its border
- Itchiness, tenderness or pain
If you are experiencing any signs or symptoms of skin cancer, you should visit your physician as soon as possible.
How can I protect my skin from the sun?
There are many ways to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. These preventive measures include:
- Staying in the shade
- Wearing clothes that cover the arms and legs
- Wearing a hat
- Wearing sunglasses
- Avoiding indoor tanning
- Using broad-spectrum sunscreen that is at least SPF 15 or higher every 30 minutes
- Keep newborns out of the sun
- Examine your skin for changes every month
- See your physician every year for a skin exam
These preventive methods should be implemented even when it is overcast, cloudy or cold. It is also important to remember that variances in skin pigmentation do not necessarily mean you are protected from skin cancer. In other words, just because your skin is darker, you should still take preventative measures to reduce the risk of skin cancer developing.