By Carmela Hoefling, MSN, APNC, AOCNP
Warmer days mean more time in the sun, but it’s important to make sure that you aren’t getting too much of a good thing. The sun’s rays make us feel good but overexposure can lead to sunburns, premature aging of the skin, wrinkling, and skin cancer including melanoma. As we head toward summer, don’t forget some basic steps you can take to protect your health:
- Apply a sunscreen with SPF of 15 or higher, 30 minutes before leaving the house. Be generous when applying! You should buy products that provide broad spectrum protection, which means protection against both UVB and UVA rays. It is important to reapply sunscreen every two hours or after swimming, perspiring or toweling off. Check your sunscreen’s expiration date. Sunscreen has a shelf life of no more than three years, but its shelf life is shorter if it has been exposed to high temperatures.
- Protect your skin with clothing. Dark colors provide more protection than lighter colored clothing. Dry fabric is more protective than wet fabric. Some companies make clothing that protects against UV exposure even when wet. There are newer products available in grocery stores that can be used in your washing machine that acts like laundry detergent that increases the UV protection factor (UPF) to your own clothing.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim all the way around to protect your face, head, ears and neck from the sun. A tightly woven, dark hat offers the most protection from UV rays.
- UV protecting sunglasses are important for protecting the delicate skin around the eyes, as well as the eyes themselves. Ideal sunglasses should block 99 to 100 percent of UVA and UVB radiation. Large framed and wraparound sunglasses will protect your eyes from light coming in from different angles.
- Seek shade! Avoid midday sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are the strongest. You can reduce your risk of skin damage and skin cancer by seeking shade under an umbrella, tree or other shelter. UV rays reach the ground all year, even on overcast days, but the strength can vary. UV rays become more intense in the spring, even before temperatures get warmer. Protect yourself in areas of sand and water as these areas can reflect sunlight, increasing the UV radiation you receive.
- Avoid tanning beds. Tanning lamps give out UVA and UVB rays. These rays can cause long term skin damage and can contribute to cancer including melanoma especially if started before the age of 30.
Incorporating these simple tips into your daily lifestyle can help protect your skin for years to come!
Carmela Hoefling, MSN, APNC, AOCNP, is an advanced practice nurse in the Melanoma and Soft Tissue Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.