July is UV Safety Month, and there’s no such thing as a “healthy tan.” Now that it’s time for pool parties and BBQ’s, extra measures need to be taken to protect the skin from sun damage. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, 42 percent of people get burnt at least once a year; it only takes about five sunburns in a person’s lifetime to double their chances of skin cancer.
Other than temporary discomfort, long term damages to the body are left behind with sun burn. Prolonged UV damage can cause changes in DNA making skin age prematurely, becoming leathery and discolored. UV damage can also cause wrinkles and blotchy skin
Skin cancer is one of the biggest concerns associated with skin damage, as it is the leading type of cancer in the United States. One blistering sunburn in childhood significantly increases the risk of developing melanoma later in life; basal cell carcinoma (BBC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) cancers are directly related to UV exposure over the years.
Protecting your skin from the sun at an early age reduces the chance of developing skin cancer later in life. Most skin cancer appears after age 50, however skin damage from the sun can originate during childhood.
Sun damage can be avoided with sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, applied every two to three hours when outside. Clothing that covers the skin, wide brimmed hats, and UV protecting sunglasses should be worn to block harmful sunrays. Limit sun exposure from 10am to 4pm even on cloudy days. Because the sun’s reflective powers are great –nearly 20 percent on sand and 80 percent on snow – don’t reserve the use of these products for only sunny summer days.
Lips get sunburned too, so apply a lip balm that contains sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
It’s important to avoid tanning beds and booths. Tanning booth users are approximately 75 percent more likely to develop melanoma than those who have never tanned indoors.
In addition to limiting sun exposure and covering the skin, self-screenings can help detect skin damages. Though most moles on the skin are non-cancerous, some can be an indication of melanoma. Suspicious markings on the skin should be checked by a doctor, treatment of sun damage works best with early detection. So check your skin regularly, and see your primary care physician if you notice any changes.
Reynaldo Cornel, MD is a physician in the Jersey Shore Medical Associates Internal Medicine Office on Kerr Avenue in Jersey Shore. Dr. Cornel may be reached by calling 570-398-1991.