Now that summer is in full-swing, it’s especially important to safeguard your skin from the ill-effects of ultraviolet radiation. Sun damage is a serious health concern, for a number of reasons, and keeping yourself protected is not difficult if you’re armed with the right knowledge.
Sunlight is hard to avoid during a New England summer. Sunlight contains harmful solar radiation called ultraviolet light. UV light comes in three different forms, UVA, UVB, and UVC light. UVC light is the most dangerous for skin, but thankfully it’s deflected by the earth’s atmosphere. UVA is the most common form of ultraviolet light in sunlight, but it’s not nearly as harmful as UVB light. Most skin cancers are associated with UVB light, but even UVA light can cause skin cancer. When our skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation, the DNA in skin is damaged and destroyed. Skin’s natural reaction to damage is to darken in color, as melanin is produced in higher concentrations. So a tan is evidence of sun damage. A sunburn is a sign of more severe damage.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world, with millions of diagnoses each year. For almost every instance of skin cancer, sustained and frequent sun damage is the culprit. Skin cancer can appear in a variety of ways, including mole-like lesions or crusty, scaly or sore-like blemishes. Melanoma looks like moles, it’s fast-moving and very deadly if left untreated or unnoticed. The two most common forms of skin cancer are squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma. Skin cancer is thankfully highly treatable if detected early, so make sure to visit your dermatologist frequently and perform self-evaluations. Sometimes sun damage will appear as a precancerous lesion called actinic keratosis. These lesions look a lot like actual skin cancer, and more than one can appear at once. They have about a 10% chance of developing into full-blown cancer.
Sunlight is inevitable, sun damage doesn’t have to be. The first and best defense against UV radiation is sunscreen. To protect your skin from sun damage, you should select a sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 30 or higher. The SPF number means how much longer your skin takes to burn than it would naturally. So if your unprotected skin burns after 20 minutes of sun exposure, it will be protected 30 times as long as that. Now, one important thing to note is that sunscreen needs to be applied every two hours, or more frequently if you’re being active or in water. Sweat and water, as well as time, neutralize the effects of sunscreen so even though it can theoretically last a lot longer than 2 hours, it’s prudent to apply it with frequency. Summer might be when the sun is brightest, but sun damage can happen all year round. Buy makeup and other cosmetic products with sunscreen. For daily use, an SPF of 15 in makeup is sufficient, though if you’re outside for any length of time, actual sunscreen is necessary.
There are other ways to keep your skin safe from UV radiation. Avoid peak sunlight hours (usually around noon and onward for a few hours) and stay in the shade as much as you can. Wear clothes that cover as much of your skin as possible, given the heat. Many outdoor outfitting companies and athleisure brands offer clothing that has a UPF. UPF clothing is designed to prevent sunlight from reaching your skin while remaining light and thin for the summer weather. Seek shade whenever possible, and do not tan! Tanning is a huge contributor to skin cancer. There is no skin-safe way to tan with light. Tanning beds or sunbathing are dangerous and often lead to cancer. Opt for spray tans as a compromise. Ultimately, avoiding sunlight and protecting yourself is crucial when facing sun damage.
Summer is a time for outdoor recreation, but you can’t be carefree when it comes to sun damage. If you have questions about sun damage, skin cancer, or protecting your skin from UV radiation, call the dermatologists at Northeast Dermatology Associates.
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