Sunlight is the main source of ultraviolet (UV) rays and getting too much sun can be harmful. People who get a lot of exposure to UV rays are at greater risk for skin cancer however you don’t have to avoid the sun completely. There are some steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays.
UVA rays (or aging rays) cause premature aging of the skin, brown spots, wrinkles and sunburns while UVB rays (or burning rays) play the greatest role in developing skin cancers, including melanoma. It is important that your sunscreen protects against both types of UV rays.
- Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Use a water resistant sunscreen if you will be swimming or sweating. Use sunscreen whenever you are going to be outside, even on cloudy days. Apply enough sunscreen to cover all exposed skin. Most adults need about 1 ounce, or enough to fill a shot glass, to fully cover their body. Don’t forget to apply to the tops of your feet, neck, ears and the top of your head. When outdoors, reapply sunscreen every 1 to 1.5 hours, or after swimming or sweating.
- Wear protective clothing such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses whenever possible. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors, tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing and dry fabric is usually more protective than wet fabric. For additional protection, look for clothes made with special sun-protective materials.
- Seek shade when appropriate, as the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM. It is very important to limit your exposure to UV light and to avoid being outdoors in direct sunlight for too long. If you are unsure how strong the sun’s rays are, practice the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest and it is important to find shade. Use extra caution when near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun which can increase your chance of sunburn.
A regular, monthly self-skin exam is recommended. If you find something suspicious on your skin, don’t hesitate to call us to schedule a skin exam with Dr. Flanagan or Dana McCullar, CRNP.