After the dark days of winter, it’s a relief to see the sun and tempting to stay outdoors basking in its rays as often as possible. But before you put on your swimsuit, it’s a good idea to review sun safety for both adults and children, so that those sunny summer days don’t lead to unwanted, and unnecessary, negative consequences.
How is the sun related to skin cancer?
The sun is a major source of Ultraviolet Radiation (UV), which can damage DNA, intensify the effects of aging, and cause cancer. The skin is the body’s largest organ, so it’s not surprising that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. UV rays are the number one cause of basal and squamous cell cancer, and also contribute to melanoma.
Is skin cancer really that dangerous?
Yes. Although both basal and squamous cell carcinomas are slow-growing and rarely deadly, if left untreated they can spread to deeper areas of the skin, causing disfigurement. In some cases, these cancers can be life threatening. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. It occurs when damaged skin cells mutate and begin to form cancerous tumors, which often resemble moles. Like the other forms of skin cancer, melanoma is highly curable if detected early.
Who is at risk?
Adults who have already experienced a lifetime of exposure to the sun are at greatest risk of developing skin cancer. If you have fair skin and burn easily, you are also at higher risk. If you have darker skin, however, don’t think you’ve got a free pass. Skin cancer often goes undetected in people of color until its later stages, making it more dangerous and difficult to treat. Finally, those with a high concentration of moles, and those with a family history of skin cancer should be extra cautious and check skin regularly.
How to stay safe
Use common sense: The most obvious way to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays is to stay in the shade, wear hats and clothing to cover the skin, and always apply sunscreen. Avoid being exposed during the middle of the day, when the sun’s rays are most intense. Always keep babies and toddlers out of the sun, and teach healthy sun protection habits to younger children as early as possible.
Stay dry: If you plan to spend a lot of time at the beach or pool this summer, make sure to dry off and use a beach cover-up after taking a dip. Wet clothes and bathing suits don’t protect the skin as well as dry, tightly woven fabrics.
Avoid burning: Getting sunburned as a child raises your risk of developing skin cancer later in life. And frequent burning, not extended exposure, increases your risk of developing melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. Sunburn causes long-term damage to skin cells and causes premature aging.
Pick the right sunscreen: Make sure to use a sunscreen that advertises “broad spectrum” coverage, which means that it will protect you from several different types of UV rays. Check that the sunscreen you choose has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Always wear sunglasses, and be sure they block UV rays as well. And if you still have an old bottle of sunscreen laying around the house, check its expiration date before you use it; sunscreen does expire, and it loses effectiveness more quickly when exposed to high temperatures.
Apply sunscreen properly: Sunscreen should be applied early and often, especially if you’re going in and out of the water. Insect repellents also reduce the effectiveness of sunscreen. Always use a generous amount, and don’t neglect those hard-to-reach places, and if you need to, ask for help.
Know the facts: Arm yourself with the facts about sun damage. Two common myths are that it’s safe to forgo sunscreen on cloudy days, and you can’t get sun damage from tanning beds. But the biggest myth of all is that there is such a thing as a “healthy tan.”
Take these simple steps, and enjoy the sun safely all summer long.
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