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Protecting Your Skin During the Summer

 

With the summer season inching closer, you’ll probably find yourself spending more time outside under the heat of the sun. While school is out, swimming, boating, camping, hiking or just enjoying the sunny weather is usually on everyone’s to-do list. But spending endless hours out in the summer sun could come with some consequences that you can see immediately or may even catch up with you later in life.

Of course, it’s easy to just think you don’t need to wear sunscreen or protect your skin. It’s easy to just think you’ll get a sunburn, it’ll fade or turn to tan and then life continues on, right? Well, that’s where you might want to think again.

Sun-damaged Skin

It’s not always something we think about, but your skin is a very important part of your body – shielding harmful things from the outside world such as germs and toxic substances. So, it’s important to take care of your skin – especially while going out in the sun because the sun can produce ultraviolet (UV) rays that can do damage to your skin.

Exposure to UV from the sun, according to the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, can cause premature skin aging, skin cancer and other related conditions. Sun-damaged skin can look like:

  • Skin texture changes, i.e., coarse and fine wrinkles on the back of the neck, or on the forearms and on the back of hands
  • Excessive bruising from minor trauma
  • Pigment changes, such as brown spots, freckles, age spots and liver spots
  • White spots on legs, arms and the back of hands
  • Red areas on the sides of the neck
  • Moles, some of which can develop into skin cancer
  • Pre-cancerous skin changes, including red scaly lesions called actinic keratosis and lesions on the lips called actinic cheilitis, both of which can develop into squamous cell carcinoma

Believe it or not, your skin is the largest organ on your body. It not only protects you against getting infections, but it also helps protect you from injuries and helps your body regulate temperature. Per Cancer.Net, your skin helps your body store water and fat, as well as produces vitamin D. The skin also has 3 main layers: The epidermis (the outer layer), the dermis (the inner layer) and the hypodermis (the deep layer of fat). Each layer of skin plays an important role in protecting your body.

Did you know that more than 3 million Americans each year are diagnosed with skin cancer? As a result, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer found on the body, according to Cancer.Net. Fortunately, skin cancer can usually be treated when found early using topical medications, procedures done by a dermatologist or an outpatient surgery. However, in some cases, skin cancer might be more advanced and require more extensive treatment options.

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There are four main types of skin cancer that can develop on the body, and per Cancer.Net, each one has its own form and development:

  • Basal cell carcinoma: Roughly 80% of skin cancers develop from this type of cell, which are round cells found in the lower epidermis part of the skin; These are most commonly found around the head and neck, but can be found anywhere on the skin, and is mainly caused by sun exposure or can develop in people who received radiation therapy when they were children; this type of cancer usually grows slowly and rarely spread to other parts of the body.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma: The epidermis – the outer layer of skin – is mostly made up of flat, scale-like cells called squamous cells. 20% of skin cancers develop from these cells which are then called squamous cell carcinomas. You can get this mainly from sun exposure but can also develop on skin that has been burned, damaged by chemicals or exposed to x-rays. It’s most commonly found on the lips but can also be found in other areas of the body and it is more likely to spread than basal cell carcinoma.
  • Merkel cell cancer: This is a highly aggressive, fast-growing and rare cancer, which starts in the hormone-producing cells just beneath the skin and the hair follicles. Merkel cell cancer is most commonly found in the head and neck region.
  • Melanoma: On the skin, where the epidermis meets the dermis, there are scattered cells called melanocytes which produce the pigment melanin. This pigment helps protect your skin from UV rays and increasing it would help reduce processes of the body that lead to skin cancer. Melanoma starts in the melanocytes and is the most serious type of skin cancer.

When dealing with skin cancer, there are a few other rare types of cancer that are all classified as non-melanoma skin cancers. But the ones listed above are the most likely to be a more common occurrence when getting diagnosed with sun-damaged skin.

One of the easiest ways to protect your skin is to wear sunscreen, but for some reason or another, most people end up forgetting to do so. In fact, according to Cancer.Net, a recent study showed that only about 14% of men and 30% of women in America put sunscreen on their faces and skin before heading outside for more than an hour. But we can do better than this, right?

How to Protect your Skin

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Year after year, summertime rolls around and everyone gets overjoyed about the warm, sunny months spent hanging out at the beach, river or lake. And year after year, each time you forget to wear sunscreen and don’t protect your skin, you could be taking a risk and damaging your skin.

Per the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, here are a couple of Do’s and Don’ts for skin exposure:

  • Reduce your exposure by wearing comfortable loose-fitting clothes during the summer months
  • Use the appropriate level of full spectrum sunscreen, somewhere between SPF 15 and SPF 50
  • Wear a hat or head covering while outside
  • Get 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure daily to promote your body’s production of vitamin D
  • Don’t use sunscreens with SPF factors greater than 50 as they give a false sense of security and may encourage you to stay in the sun too long
  • Don’t expose skin to the sun that is red, sore or blistered

One of the biggest misconceptions about the sun is that you can’t get a sunburn while it’s cloudy outside – which is wrong. You should try to use sunscreen even when it’s cloudy in the summertime as the sun’s UV rays are still coming down strong. Once you have applied your sunscreen, you should wait at least 15 to 30 minutes before going outside, and you’ll want to re-apply every two hours or every hour if you are swimming.

Have you ever noticed that the sun is more intense when you are around water or sand? That’s because the sun’s UV rays are reflecting off these surfaces more easily, which can increase your chance of getting a sunburn. And, according to Cancer.Net, you should try to limit the time you are in the sun between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM, as this is when the sun’s rays are the most intense. There’s even a shadow rule that goes: if your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their strongest and you should find shade.

When you live in a mostly sunny state, such as Florida, then you shouldn’t be surprised by the intense heat and sunshine that typically comes around this time of the year. So, the next time you plan to go on a boating outing on the river or get some sun at the beach, be sure to plan ahead and make sure you are prepared to protect your skin against the sun.