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Wellness@Work: How to prevent sun damage

How to prevent sun damage

By Kimberly Donnellan, M.D., F.A.C.S
USA Health Midtown

Summertime means more time in the sun, and that can lead to skin damage – or worse – if you’re not careful.

Whether you spend time gardening, by the pool or at the beach, make sure you and your family are protected by following these important tips. 

Apply sunscreen

One of the most important things you can do to protect your skin is to wear sunscreen every day, especially in the summer, but don’t neglect it in the winter or when it’s cloudy. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters out both UVA and UVB rays with an SPF of 30 or higher to protect against cancer.

Apply a thick layer to all exposed skin, including the tops of your feet if your shoes don’t provide full covering. Get help to make sure all hard-to-reach places, such as your back, are protected.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t recommend sunscreen for babies 6 months old or younger. Instead, they should be kept out of the sun during midday and dressed in protective clothing if they must be outside.

Be sure to reapply sunscreen often if you are in the sun for more than two hours. If you are swimming or sweating, reapply every hour as sunscreen can wear off.

Avoid UV rays

Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, which comes from the sun, tanning beds and sunlamps. UV rays damage skin cells, and they are a concern during sunny days, but also overcast or cool days.

In addition to wearing a sunscreen that provides protection from UV rays, you can also avoid the sun when they are the strongest. Typically, this is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Be extra careful around reflective surfaces, such as water, sand or cement, as they can increase your chances of getting sunburned. Pay attention to the UV forecast for the area each day, and if it is a 3 or higher, take extra precautions to protect your skin.

It’s best to avoid all forms of tanning and opt for a spray-on or lotion tanning product if you want a sun-kissed look.

Wear protective clothing

If possible, stay in the shade under an umbrella or other shelter to reduce your risk of sun damage. You can also wear protective clothing made from tightly woven fabric to limit exposure to UV rays.

Choose a hat with a wide brim that shields your face, ears and the back of your neck. Avoid straw hats with holes that allow sunlight through. If you wear a baseball cap, make sure to apply sunscreen on your ears and the back of your neck.

Sunglasses help protect your eyes from UV rays, as well as the tender skin around your eyes. Choose lenses that provide protection from both UVA and UVA rays. Most sunglasses sold in the U.S. meet this standard.

Get regular skin exams

These should be done regularly on your own. Take notice of any moles or freckles on your skin, and observe if they change in size, texture or color. But if it itches or bleeds, get it checked out by a physician.

In general, you should get a full-body exam or skin check once a year by your doctor or dermatologist to make sure there are no moles of concern. Consider your amount of sun exposure or family history, and you may need to schedule a more regular visit.

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about prevention to help save lives. Skin cancers are the most common types of cancer, but also the most treatable, especially when detected early.

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