— With summer officially upon us, it’s important to remember to protect your body’s largest organ – your skin – from the sun’s dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays. Here are some quick tips to ensure safety in the sun.
1. Drink plenty of fluids. The greater your exposure to heat and sun, the higher the potential for fluid loss. The best way to prevent fluid loss is to consume more liquids including water or water-based, electrolyte-rich sports drinks. According to the Institute of Medicine, men should consume approximately 13 cups of liquids per day, while women should aim for an intake of nine cups.
2. Cover your skin with sunscreen. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the use of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Be sure to apply sunscreen generously over all parts of your body that are exposed to the sun. Don’t forget about the often-missed areas such as your lips, the tips of your ears, and the back of your hands and neck. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours if you are sweating or swimming. Keep in mind that even “waterproof” sunscreen should be reapplied frequently.
3. Take advantage of protective clothing. Whenever possible, wear clothing that covers your arms and legs. In contrast to baseball caps and visors, a broad-brimmed hat supplies better protection for your sensitive face, ears and neck. Additionally, look for sunproof bathing suits, shirts and sports apparel, adding another layer of much-needed protection.
4. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, UV rays from the sun can cause eye damage, which could result in progressive clouding of the eye (cataracts) and diminishing eyesight. Look for sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays, with a rating of 99-100 percent of UV rays blocked, to prevent potentially harmful sun exposure.
5. Learn how to identify common skin cancers.
Squamous cell cancer, which appears crusty and red, and basal cell cancer, appearing round and with a pearly edge, commonly occurs on sun-exposed areas such as the arms, face and upper body. Melanoma, which appears black-brown or fleshy, can occur in those same areas in addition to other areas of the body. With the help of a friend or family member, examine the front and back of your body, including the undersides of your arms and hands, soles of your feet, and the spaces between your toes, as well as other non-readily visible areas, at least once per year.
6. Monitor your skin. Take the time to examine your skin and note any existing moles, freckles, bumps and birthmarks.
Use the A-B-C-D-E test, developed by the American Academy of Dermatology, to determine if you should be concerned about any changes to your skin.
- A stands for asymmetrical shape. Do you have a mole or growth that is shaped irregularly?
- B stands for irregular border. Does your mole or growth have an abnormal or notched border?
- C stands for changes in color. Does your mole or growth have multiple colors or an unequal distribution of color?
- D stands for diameter. Do you have a newly discovered growth or mole larger than one-quarter inch in diameter?
- E stands for evolving. Has your mole or growth changed over time in terms of color and shape? Is there any new bleeding or itchiness?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to contact your health care team.
7. Avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. In North America, this time frame supplies the strongest and potentially most damaging sun rays. The best choice for sun protection is to avoid being outside during these hours. If you cannot avoid exposure, seek shade whenever possible.
8. Don’t buy the “tan” myth. We’ve all heard it – if you build up a “base tan” from a tanning bed or have a naturally darker pigment, you won’t burn. The truth is that there is no scientific evidence supporting this claim. In fact, tanning beds produce high-powered UV radiation, which can increase the risk of skin cancer.
9. Evaluate medications for potential sun-sensitizing side effects. Ask your health care team, including pharmacists, if your prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause sun sensitivity.
Follow these nine tips for a safer, skin-friendly summer. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your health care team for guidance.
Dr. Stephan Thome is a Mayo Clinic Health System oncologist and hematologist.
For more information, please go to www.Mayoclinichealthsystem.org
Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.