Sun Safety: Protecting Your Skin
In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts discuss sun safety and how to prevent skin cancer, including:
Sun Safety: How to Protect Your Skin From the Sun
The most important thing you can do to protect your skin from the sun and prevent skin cancer (other than avoiding the sun and wearing protective clothing) is to wear sunscreen. It takes about 15 minutes for your skin to fully absorb the sunscreen in order to protect you.
Apply sunscreen on your face, neck and ears, as well as any other areas that are exposed to sun. For example, if you have a T-shirt on, you should apply it on your arms; if you have flip-flops on, apply it to the tops of your feet. Men who have hair loss should also apply it to the top of their head. Since your lips are always exposed, use a lip balm that contains an SPF. To remain protected when outdoors, reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.
The sun is most intense between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. So if you’re going to be outside, it’s best to seek shade. Or you can plan outdoor activities before 10 a.m. and after 4 p.m. If you’re going to be at the pool or beach, use an umbrella. Wear protective clothing, such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when possible.
People who get sunburned usually didn’t use enough sunscreen, didn’t reapply it after being in the sun or used an expired product. Your skin is exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays every time you go outside, even on cloudy days and in the winter. So, whether you are taking a walk in your neighborhood or on vacation, remember to use sunscreen.
It’s recommended that everyone use sunscreen that offers the following:
- Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
- SPF 30 or higher
- Water resistance
- A zinc base, which causes less sensitivity and acts as a physical barrier to the sun.
It’s important to begin treating a sunburn as soon as possible. You should treat a sunburn by taking the following steps:
- Cover the exposed area to stop further UV exposure.
- Hydrate your skin with aloe and a heavy lotion.
- Take aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce swelling, redness and discomfort.
- Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water prevents dehydration.
Although it may seem like a temporary condition, sunburn – a result of skin receiving too much exposure from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays – can cause long-lasting damage to the skin. This damage increases a person’s risk for getting skin cancer, making it critical to protect the skin from sun. Severe sunburns may benefit from medical attention.
Kathryn Bradshaw, FNP-C, is a certified family nurse practitioner at Alamance Skin Center and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received her Bachelor of Science in nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and her Master of Science in nursing from Western Carolina University.
Sun Safety: ABCDE of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the world, and, unfortunately, we tend to accumulate growths and/or spots on our skin from cumulative sun damage as we age. Some of these spots are benign and some are cancerous; therefore, it is important to be able to distinguish which spots may be harmful. The 3 most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma. Out of those 3, basal cell is most common, but the most serious type is melanoma. One of the largest populations that is being diagnosed with skin cancer is young women, and the numbers continue to grow. This is due largely to tanning bed use. No tanning bed exposure is safe. Spray tanning is a good alternative, but those who get one should still protect themselves from the sun.
Individuals should examine their skin for a new spot, bump or growth that itches, burns, bleeds or changes color or size. Specifically, with melanoma, individuals should use the ABCDE guidelines when examining moles:
A – Asymmetry: Different from one side to the next.
B – Border irregularity: Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
C – Color: Variation and/or change.
D – Diameter: More than 6 mm (end of a pen tip) and/or change in diameter.
E – Evolving: This has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. If a mole is changing, it’s concerning. You know your skin better than anyone else. Check for things that weren’t there before and bring them to your doctor’s attention. New, rapidly growing or changing moles that bleed should be examined by a dermatologist.
If you are concerned about a spot or growth on your skin, it is important to schedule an appointment with your primary care provider or a dermatologist as soon as possible to be professionally examined. The Cone Health Cancer Center has developed the Multidisciplinary Melanoma Program to help melanoma patients through diagnosis and treatment, close to home. Like all cancer, the sooner it’s detected, the better the treatment outcomes. If caught early, most small melanomas can be treated in your dermatologist’s office. There are better treatment outcomes now, more than ever, due to advances in molecular therapy.
Natalie Depcik-Smith, MD, is a dermatopathologist in Greensboro and the medical director of the Melanoma Program at the Cone Health Cancer Center. She earned her medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. She then completed a 1-year internship in internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, a 4-year residency in pathology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, and a 1-year fellowship in dermatopathology at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Depcik-Smith has extensive experience in cancer research and skin cancer diagnosis.
Sun Safety: For Babies, Toddlers and Young Children
It’s never too early to teach kids about sun protection, as UV rays and sun exposure can cause cumulative skin damage over time and are linked to skin cancer. It is important to begin teaching children at a young age about protecting themselves from sun exposure, as this will instill good habits. Parents can make it interactive by teaching their children fun methods, such as looking to see if their shadow is shorter than them when they are outside. If it is, then that means it is the time of day when the sun’s rays are the strongest and they should try to find shade.
Parents of babies younger than 6 months should talk to their pediatrician before applying sunscreen. Babies under 6 months should be kept in the shade when outdoors. When applying sunscreen to a baby for the first time, apply in a small area to ensure the baby is not allergic to the sunscreen before applying all over the body.
Sunglasses are recommended to protect their eyes, as cumulative sun damage to the eyes can cause macular degeneration.
Sunscreen is always an essential part of protecting your children from sunburn and skin damage. Key guidelines to remember when applying sunscreen on your children, as well as yourself, are to:
- Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher.
- Apply 30 minutes before going outside.
- Continue to reapply every 2 hours — and more often if your little one is sweating or playing in water.
It’s important to choose broad spectrum sunscreens that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays affect the surface layers of the skin and are the rays that cause sunburn. UVA rays penetrate deeper into the skin and cause aging. Both types of UV rays lead to cumulative skin damage.
Christine Brannock, BSN, RN, OCN, is the oncology outreach manager at Cone Health Cancer Center. Brannock earned a Bachelor of Science in public health education from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2001, an associate degree in nursing at Guilford Technical Community College in 2004, a Bachelor of Science in nursing from East Carolina University in May 2016, and is an Oncology Certified Nurse. She has been an employee at Cone Health for nearly 20 years.