Sun Safety in the Summer Months

Summary: Being safe in the sun is a very important aspect of outdoor life. August brings sun safety month, with a focus on how to lessen you and your family’s risk of skin cancer. Summer brings such fun with parties, camp outs and pool fun and also brings a heightened risk for skin cancer when left unprotected! Learn how to choose the best sunscreen, various methods for staying sun safe, and what to watch for on your own skin and that of your family members. This August and every month thereafter, protect your skin and have a blast outside!

August is sun safety month! Naturally, you will most likely spend lots of time outdoors with your friends and family on those warm summer days. It should also be a natural step to ensure that you are taking good care of your skin and protecting yourself from the sun’s rays every time you go outside! Ultraviolet rays from the sun, or fake sources like tanning beds, are the number one cause of skin cancer. Too much exposure can also cause a sunburn, eye damage, and premature wrinkles. Shielding your skin properly with clothing, staying in the shade whenever possible, and wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher will help you to lower your risk for developing skin cancer.

The Right Type of Sunscreen

With so many options for sunscreen available it can be hard to determine which type you should buy. Using sunscreen should become a part of your everyday body care routine, as the damage caused to your body and skin from the UV rays build over the years. It is even more important to use sunscreen in the summer when the days are longer, the sun is hotter, and it is easier to spend countless hours outdoors. When choosing a sunscreen, read the label before you purchase. The FDA regulations require the label to contain the following information:

  • Choose a sunscreen with “broad-spectrum” protection. Sunscreens with this label protect against both UVA and UVB rays. All sunscreen products protect against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn. But UVA rays also contribute to skin cancer and premature aging. Only products that pass a test can be labeled “broad spectrum.” Products that are not broad spectrum must carry a warning that they only protect against sunburn, not skin cancer or skin aging.
  • Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays. Higher SPF numbers do mean more protection, but the higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%; SPF 50 sunscreens filter about 98%, and SPF 100 filter about 99%. No sunscreen protects you completely. The FDA requires any sunscreen with an SPF below 15 to carry a warning that it only protects against sunburn, not skin cancer or skin aging.
  • “Water resistant” does not mean “waterproof.” No sunscreens are waterproof or “sweatproof,” and manufacturers are not allowed to claim that they are. If a product’s front label makes claims of being water resistant, it must specify whether it lasts for forty minutes or eighty minutes while swimming or sweating. For best results, reapply sunscreen at least every two hours and even more often if you are swimming or sweating. Sunscreen usually rubs off when you towel yourself dry, so you will need to put more on.

Simple Steps to stay Sun-Safe

There are basic steps you can take each summer to ensure you and your family stay safe in the sun. Consider these tips when going outdoors:

  • Cover up! When you are out in the sun, wear clothing and a wide-brimmed hat to protect as much skin as possible. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply at least every two hours, as well as after swimming or sweating.
  • Seek shade. Limit your direct exposure to the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when UV rays are strongest.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Both can cause serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer. Remember, a sunburn is skin damage.

What should I look for on my skin when I do self-checks for lumps and marks?

The type of cancer most often found from sun damage is basal cell carcinoma. Watch for new growths, spots, bumps, patches, or sores that do not heal after several weeks. Shaving cuts that do not heal in few days sometimes turn out to be skin cancers, which often bleed easily.

Basal cell carcinomas can appear in a number of different forms:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
  • Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might have abnormal blood vessels spreading out from them
  • Open sores, which may have oozing or crusted areas, that do not heal, or that heal and then come back

Squamous cell carcinomas can appear as:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
  • Open sores, which may have oozing or crusted areas, that do not heal, or that heal and then come back
  • Wart-like growths

Both of these types of skin cancer may develop as a flat area showing only slight changes from normal skin.

Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, is a skin condition that can sometimes progress to squamous cell cancer, although most of them do not. Actinic keratoses are caused by too much sun exposure. They are usually small, less than a quarter-inch across, rough or scaly spots that may be pink-red or flesh-colored. Usually they start on the face, ears, backs of the hands, and arms, but they can occur on other sun-exposed areas of skin. People with one actinic keratosis usually develop many more.

The ABCDE Skin Rule

The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that’s changing in size, shape, or color. Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin. If you have any of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.

The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:

  • A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
  • B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
  • D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.

Some melanomas do not fit these rules described above, so it’s important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.

Other warning signs are:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
  • Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • Change in the surface of a mole – crustiness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump

If you suspect that you may have an area that looks questionable on your skin and you know you have had unprotected time outdoors in the sun, do not wait to contact your doctor for testing and treatment. Being outdoors is an important part of many people’s lives and doing it safely can ensure that you can spend as much of your time outdoors as possible. Do not let the sun be your enemy, simply learn to outsmart those UV rays! This August, and every month thereafter, take the steps to ensure that you and your family are sun safe and working to lessen your risk of skin cancer!

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Reclaiming Intimacy

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