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Sun Safety: How to Prevent Sun Damage

August 05, 2019 | Christina Canfield, M.D.

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What is Sun Damage?

The ultraviolet radiation found in sunlight is absorbed by the skin and can damage the genetic material in skin cells whether you get a sunburn or not. Over time, this damage accumulates and increases your risk of developing skin cancer.

While sunlight exposure can cause damage at any age, exposure earlier in life is particularly dangerous. According to a study published by the American Association for Cancer Research, there is a direct link between sunburns earlier in life and higher risk of melanoma skin cancer. The women in the study who experienced a minimum of five sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 years old were 80% more likely to later develop melanoma skin cancer than others.

Early exposure means cells have more time to become damaged and ultimately result in skin cancer. That is why it is important to not only take precautionary steps to protect yourself, but your children as well. Skin damage can start at a young ag but so can safe sun exposure habits.

Preventing Sun Damage

On warm summer days it is natural to want to get outside and enjoy the sun. So, taking necessary steps to protect your skin from sun exposure should also be second nature.

Try to avoid direct sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when UV rays are the strongest. Plan any outdoor activities either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Seek or create shade using umbrellas, shelters, or even a tree. Remember, there is no such thing as a “safe tan” so avoid tanning beds and sunlamps, which can also result in serious long-term skin damage and contribute to skin cancer.

While it is best to stay out of the sun altogether, protecting yourself from the sun does not have to mean becoming a hermit during the summer months. When you head outside this summer make sure to follow these steps to best stay safe from the adverse effects sun exposure can have.

This slip-slop-slap method of sun protection is based off an Australian sun safety campaign and is an easy way to remember how to protect yourself and your skin.

  • Slip: Slip on a shirt and other clothing to protect as much skin as possible.
  • Slop: Slop on sunscreen wherever your skin may be exposed. Make sure to use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum of 30 SPF. Reapply at least every two hours and always after swimming, sweating, or towel drying.
  • Slap: Slap on a hat and sunglasses that block at least 99% of UV light.

In the United States, skin cancer is currently the most commonly diagnosed cancer. Pay attention to any new growths, sores, spots, and patches on your body that aren’t healing within a few weeks and consider scheduling a visit to your doctor. And remember, before you head outside, slip-slop-slap!

Dr. Christina Canfield is a physician with Fisher-Titus Family Medicine-Wakeman. She has been practicing in the area for 25 years. For appointments, call 419-660-2900.