Did you know the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your skin in as little as 15 minutes?
Although the sun is necessary for life, too much sun exposure can lead to adverse health effects, including skin cancer. In fact, more than one million Americans are diagnosed with some form of skin cancer each year, making it the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Experts estimate that 90 percent of non-melanoma (basal and squamous cell carcinoma) and 65 percent of melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Fortunately, most skin cancer is largely preventable through a broad sun protection program. To protect you and your family from overexposure to the sun, follow these simple safety recommendations:
Enjoy the shade
A nice shady spot under an umbrella, tree or other shelter not only keeps you cool, it can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by avoiding direct exposure to the sun. The very best protection is to use sunscreen or wear protective clothing when you’re outside — even when you’re in the shade.
Whenever possible, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and skirts to provide protection from UV rays. Clothes made from tightly woven fabric offer the best protection. Some clothing certified under international standards comes with information on its ultraviolet protection factor. If wearing long sleeves isn’t practical, at least try to wear a T-shirt or beach cover-up.
Wear a hat
For added protection from harmful UV rays, wear a hat with a brim all the way around that shades your face, ears, and the back of your neck. A tightly woven fabric, such as canvas, works best. Avoid straw hats with holes that let sunlight through. If you wear a baseball cap, don’t forget your ears and the back of your neck. Protect those sensitive spots by using sunscreen with at least SPF 15.
Put on sunglasses
Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard.
And perhaps most important of all, don’t go outside without sunscreen — even on cloudy days! Wear a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15; higher numbers indicate more protection. Be sure to apply a thick layer on all parts of exposed skin, and get help for hard-to-reach places like your back.
Remember to reapply if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating or toweling off. A final reminder: sunscreens have a limited shelf life. Check the expiration date on the bottle; if there isn’t one, discard after three years — and sooner if it has been exposed to high temperatures.
Get checked today
I recently detected a melanoma on a 65-year-old gentleman at the annual Ingalls Southland Health Fair in May. The patient, who had been a competitive swimmer and lifeguard for many years, had frequent and regular exposure to the sun. Fortunately, the melanoma was detected early enough. But that’s not always the case; in fact, an estimated 10,130 people will die of melanoma_in 2016.
Early detection is critical. If you are exposed to the sun on a regular basis – either occupationally or recreationally – check your skin regularly for any indications of skin cancer. And be sure to have a professional skin check every year. Indicators of skin cancer may include:
- Irregular borders on moles (ragged, notched, or blurred edges).
- Moles that are not symmetrical (one half doesn’t match the other).
- Colors that are not uniform throughout.
- Moles that are bigger than a pencil eraser.
- Itchy or painful moles.
- New moles.
- Sores that bleed and do not heal.
- Red patches or lumps.
For any questions or concerns, call Romberg at SAS Surgical, 708-476-8205. Michael Romberg is a board-certified surgeon and wound specialist at Ingalls Memorial Hospital.