Enjoy Sunny Days Safely
This summer, take steps to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays.
Extended sun exposure can put you at risk for skin cancer. It can also impact your lips, ears and even your eyes.
Protecting your skin
Regardless of whether you are playing an outdoor sport, gardening, or lounging by the pool, it is important to protect your skin from the sun. Dr. Justin Finch, a Middlesex Health dermatologist, offers a few tips to help you stay safe outside:
- When possible, plan outdoor activities before 10 a.m. or after 2 p.m. to avoid the strongest ultraviolet (UV) sun exposure.
- Seek shade! Find shade under an umbrella, tree, or awning.
- Wear sun-protective clothing. The best UV protective gear has a tight weave that prevents harmful UV rays from reaching your skin. Clothing that you cannot see your hand through is best. Sometimes, the clothing is designed for a specific activity and is labeled with a ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) rating. Look for a UPF of 30 or higher!
- Wearing a vented shirt is also a great option! Most outdoor stores carry stylish, lightweight protective clothing, such as vented shirts.
- Wear a hat. The best hats for sun protection have a four-inch brim all the way around. Wearing a baseball cap can certainly help, but it does leave your neck and cheeks exposed.
- Always wear sunscreen! Apply a generous layer of broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher BEFORE going outside. Because sunscreen wears off, remember to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours.
Choosing a sunscreen
When it comes to sunscreen, there are so many choices! The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a sunscreen that says on the label:
- Broad spectrum: This means that the sunscreen blocks ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays, both of which are associated with skin cancers.
- SPF 30 or higher: This is a measure of the potency of the sunscreen.
- Water resistant or very water resistant: Sunscreen is not waterproof, but selecting a sunscreen that is water resistant is helpful. Sunscreen should be reapplied every 40 to 80 minutes when you are sweating.
What about your ears and lips?
When heading to the golf course, don’t forget to apply lip balm with SPF 25 or higher. Lips are particularly susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer, because there’s relatively little melanin in lip skin. Worth noting: Squamous cell carcinoma on the lip has a higher risk of spreading.
Signs of lip cancer include a flat or slightly raised whitish discoloration of the lip; a sore on your lip that won’t heal; and tingling, pain or numbness of the lips or the skin around the mouth.
Also, remember to protect your ears! Squamous cell carcinoma also has a higher risk of spreading when it occurs on your ears.
Ears are best protected when you wear a broad-brimmed hat. You can also cover your ears in the same sunscreen that you use on your face.
The skin cancer risk
Skin cancer can develop when skin is exposed to the sun, and there are three main types: basal carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Like most other cancers, the best outcomes happen when the cancer is caught early.
Skin cancer can affect anyone. It doesn’t matter your age, gender or skin tone. It also appears both in areas normally exposed to the sun, such as your arms and face, and areas that are not, such as areas under clothing and beneath your toe nails.
You can reduce your risk of getting skin cancer by limiting or avoiding exposure to ultraviolet radiation — the sun! This means using sunscreen and wearing protective clothing during the summer months.
What to look for
In addition to visiting a dermatologist annually, it’s important to check your skin throughout the year for any changes in appearance. For those tough-to-see spots, a loved one should be able to help!
Look for any pearly or waxy bumps and flat, flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesions. These can be signs of basal cell carcinoma. Firm, red nodules, or flat lesions with a scaly, crusted surface can indicate squamous cell carcinoma.
Signs of melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, include a change in the color, size or shape of a mole. Small lesions with irregular borders, or lesions that contain different colors may also be of concern.
How does the sun affect your eyes?
While there is no concrete proof that sun exposure is linked to eye diseases, Dr. Thomas Beggins, a Middlesex Health ophthalmologist, says there is still good reason to be cautious. He says direct sunlight could damage your eyes, along with light that reflects off of other things like grass, soil, dry sand and water.
The idea is that the amount of UV radiation on the eye can build up over time, increasing the likelihood of developing eye problems in the future. Too much sun is thought to cause pinguecula, an abnormal growth of tissue on the conjunctiva, the clear membrane that covers the white of the eye. Sun may also cause pterygium, also an abnormal growth of tissue on the conjunctiva and the adjacent cornea. To solve both issues, eye lubrication, such as artificial tears or gels, may be necessary. For pterygium, surgery may also be needed.
Eye problems due to sun exposure may also include cataracts, which is when the lens of the eye is clouded, reducing vision and possibly resulting in cataract surgery.
And melanoma is not just reserved for the skin you can touch. You can also get melanoma in your eye, which can only be detected by an ophthalmologist.
Because the sun is strong and can potentially have a negative impact on your eyes, Dr. Beggins recommends:
- Wearing polarized sunglasses that block UVA and UVB light. Wrap-around sunglasses are particularly helpful.
- Wearing a hat that protects your ears, such as a wide-brimmed hat. This type of hat will help protect your eyes from any glare, any protect any skin near them.
- Getting a regular, dilated eye exam to ensure that your eyes are healthy and that you do not have any eye diseases.
- Applying sunscreen on any skin near your eyes
- Staying in good health and eating well
- Taking AREDS 2 vitamins if you are older to help slow macular degeneration, or vision change over time. (Please consult with your physician before taking new vitamins.)
About Middlesex Health
From dermatologists and primary care providers providing skin cancer screenings and ophthalmologists assessing eye health to surgeons treating skin cancer, Middlesex Health can help you protect your body from the sun and tackle any problems.
Should you need it, Middlesex Health Cancer Center’s expert physicians and staff are ready to provide you with the best possible care, while helping you understand your diagnosis and treatment.
Click here to learn more about the Middlesex Health Cancer Center.
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