Reduce Exposure to Risky Rays
by Ross Levy, MD, Chief, Dermatology, Northern Westchester Hospital
As the days lengthen and the temperature climbs, you can’t help but head outdoors for fun in the sun. Before you grab your beach towel, you should take measures to protect your skin. Too much sun is the primary cause of most skin cancers. Despite what you may have heard, there’s no such thing as a healthy tan. Tanning is a sign of skin damages.
Why is sun such a problem? The light contains ultraviolet rays that trigger changes in the DNA of skin cells. Most of the time the body’s immune system tracks down these mutations and repairs them, but occasionally the damage is missed and skin cancer takes hold. The more sun you’re exposed to, the greater your risk.
Your first line of defense against the sun’s damaging rays can be clothing. If you can bear it, wearing long sleeve shirts and pants and a wide-brimmed hat will offer the best protection. Another measure you can take is limiting your time outdoors when the sun is directly overhead and its rays are strongest — between 10am and 2pm. However, there will be times when you’re skin isn’t covered, such as at the beach or a pool. I still prefer clothing in these situations: When I’m going to be at the beach, I wear a long-sleeved nylon top that I can swim in. Look for a swim shirt or rash guard that is rated for sun protection.
You’ll still need to take care of your face, ears, neck, hands, legs, and any other exposed skin. For those areas, seek out a broad spectrum sunscreen that has a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Broad spectrum indicates that it blocks out both UVA and UVB rays, both of which can damage skin. I recommend that my patients get SPF 50 sunscreen. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen or reapply it often enough. Using SPF 50 will help cover those instances. Cover all areas liberally with sunscreen 15 minutes before you go outdoors, and put more on every couple of hours and after swimming. Even water-resistant screens wash off.
While we tend to worry most about sunburn during the summer, you actually need protection year-round. Be especially wary any time you’re traveling to higher altitudes, warns. For every 1,000 feet increase in elevation, your UV exposure increases by 10 percent. Keep in mind, snow, like water, can reflect the sun and raise your risk of burning.
The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention offers the following advice: Slip! Slop! Slap! Wrap!
The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated the Friday before Memorial Day as “Don’t Fry Day.” The goal? To make sure people stay safe in the sun and protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors—on “Don’t Fry Day” and every day.Here’s why. Skin cancer is on the rise in the United States; the American Cancer Society estimates that one American dies every hour from skin cancer. In 2012 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 76,250 new cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
“Don’t Fry Day” offers simple steps that you and your family can take to prevent sun-related skin cancer, such as:
• Slip on a shirt
• Slop on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher
• Slap on a wide-brimmed hat.
• Wrap on sunglasses.
For more information on resources available for “Don’t Fry Day” and skin safety, visit http://www.skincancerprevention.org/
Check out this consumer health Sun Safety information from the FDA: